Rail Industry Focus


WCML upgrade: three key weekends completed at Watford

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Aug/Sept 2014

Network Rail’s John Nixon tells RTM about why August’s works were so important to the Watford Area Renewals Programme.

During August 2014, Network Rail was under significant pressure and time constraints to deliver upgrades and renewals around the Watford junction on the West Coast Main Line (WCML).

The original plan was a 16-day closure in August, with a nine-day closure in February 2015. But a review in early 2014 decided the work would take place over three weekends in August and two weekends in February.

Although this decision was taken to reduce disruption, it meant the project partners on the £81m scheme – which includes the complete renewal of signalling and signalling power supplies between Kings Langley and Bushey, as well as the renewal of 15km of track and S&C and OLE upgrades – would be pushed for time.

Network Rail Infrastructure Projects’ senior programme manager for the works John Nixon told RTM: “The three weekends we’ve had, which are weeks 20, 21, 22 [of CP5 2014-15], involved having to renew the whole of the points on the Up Fast, Down Slow and the Up Slow.”

In particular, the team had a number of piling gantry and straight post signal installations to carry out, plus the installation of gantry dropper cages, fast line gantry legs as well as gantry booms.

Nixon told us: “The main thing about the works over the last period has been with regards to the heavy engineering aspect of the signalling system.”

The stages of gantry installation start, of course, with the foundations, including cast down concrete for some of the bigger gantries. Nixon said: “We had to erect the legs separately and then the booms across the large track sections. This was done in a separate stage as well.

“We also had some relatively standard straight-post signals as well. So the work has been a combination of completing bases and legs and booms and straight posts.”

In terms of the number of straight-posts delivered during the three weekends, the team erected about nine new signal posts. Additionally, anywhere the project team has done S&C works, new sleepers have been laid. 

“The way the work was split on the first two weekends was the actual renewal of the points, bearers and over ballast. But because of the way the South Junction is set up, you have to stress the whole junction in one go. So, effectively, the first two weekends were renewing all the assets and the third weekend stressing and tamping of the South Junction and OLE work,” said Nixon.

As well as carrying out the South Junction works, the project team, which includes members of Network Rail, Siemens and Colas, started work on the North Junction, where approximately 650 yards of track has been plain lined and re-ballasted.

Nixon said: “What we did was done in the run-up to the renewal of the whole North Junction. We have plain-lined the S&C on the Up Fast and renewed all the ballast and the formation there in preparation for our works over the coming weeks and months ahead to renew the North Junction.

“In terms of plain line, we’ve probably done about half a mile on the North Junction.”

The North Junction will now be out of use until Easter 2015. Eight S&C units have been renewed over the three August weekends at the South Junction, Nixon said. And following the August works, the team have, effectively, now completed all of the works at Watford South Junction.

Upcoming work

Although the project team has been able to carry out a large part of the renewals work around Watford, Nixon says the team isn’t going to get complacent as there is much more work to be done.

“We have four weeks of significant work in the period weeks 25-28. We will continue plain-lining and will be removing the Central Ladder at Watford Junction. After we carried out analysis, it was not seen to be required going forward,” he said.

The Central Ladder, which has been a notable feature of the layout at Watford, is the series of points which connect the Up Slow with the Down Fast.

The connection between the Up and Down Slow lines was removed during the earlier April blockade.

“During the consecutive weekends from 25-28 we take out the S&C from the Down Slow to the Up Fast, and then from the Up Fast to the Down Fast, and we’re doing those in slightly extended sessions,” Nixon told us. “So the type of work we are doing right now is very tight. That is certainly the next big challenge.”

Off the back of completing the Central Ladder, a lot of the WCML team’s work will be delivering the work required ahead of the signalling commissioning at Christmas.

Troubled weather

Even though the upgrade team managed to hand back the WCML on time during the August works (unlike the May bank holiday, when Network Rail had to apologise for a late handback that disrupted train services), it wasn’t always plain sailing and calm waters for the teams.

Nixon highlighted that during the bank holiday takeover there was torrential rain at Watford, which required Network Rail to bring in some additional teams to support them with the welding of the South Junction.

“The welding took us considerably longer than we had programmed,” he said. “But through collaboration between Siemens, the guys who were providing the S&C support, and Colas, the track team, we managed to further integrate their programme to actually cut down the amount of time it took to put the railway back together.”

RTM was told that during the three weekends of work, the amount of collaborative working between Siemens, Colas and Network Rail has been “impressive” to see.

On top of the weather-related issues, one of the trains delivering materials for the North Junction work was temporarily out of action with an over-heated axle.

“It was quite a stressful time, when you’re waiting for a train that is carrying your resources – on a tight programme of work – and it is going to be delayed,” Nixon stated.

“Thankfully, the train was repaired quickly and – although we had to change how we were going to deliver the programme – we still finished the works on time.”

Rolling on to Christmas commissioning

During December, from Christmas Day until 29 December, the WCML team will be faced with the commissioning of the newly installed signalling system, with control being transferred to Wembley Signalling Centre.

“However, before then, there are obviously lots of signal barriers we are having to install, cabinets and running out the cabling,” Nixon told us. “So there is a lot of work between now and Christmas to make sure that the signalling team is in a position to commission the new signalling into Wembley.”

Looking beyond Christmas and into 2015, the team will have two weekends in February to carry out track renewals at Watford North Junction, and then in April the renewal of Orphanage Road Bridge and the completion of track works at Watford North Junction will be carried out.

But without looking that far ahead, Nixon said, in his view, the biggest risk to the programme’s timeframe was always how the team delivered the August works – so the month was a big success overall.

“This was because we were going from a pretty big blockade to [just] three weekends. It all had to be delivered in sequence, so anything that was delayed could have caused major knock-on effects, which would have required further disruptive access,” he said.

“I think we’ve done well and got the major pinch-points delivered in August.”

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