Restoring the long-awaited Borders Rail in southern Scotland promises many challenges for the construction team. Declan Lynch finds out more.
Contractors have just started work on a project that in two years time will restore a much missed rail link between Edinburgh and the border with England. Ever since Dr Beeching’s axe terminated services on the Borders Railway between the Scottish capital and Tweedbank in 1969 there have been plans to reopen it.
For 30 years campaigners tried in vain to persuade the governing powers to reopen what was then the Waverley Line, but it was not until 1999 with the arrival of devolution and the Scottish Parliament that plans began to gather momentum.
“With the advent of the Scottish government and its pro-rail agenda plans were put in place to reopen the line,” says Network Rail Borders Railway project director Hugh Wark.
The Waverley Bill was put to the Scottish Parliament in 2004 and passed in 2006, alongside the creation of Transport Scotland.
At the time, Scottish Parliament members considered the reopening of the line to be righting a wrong forced on Scotland by Westminster.
The plans to revive the line involve developing a new service connecting Edinburgh Waverley station to Tweedbank on the border and include seven stations at Shawfair, Eskbank, Newtongrange, Gorebridge, Stow, Galashiels and Tweedbank.
“Using Network Rail’s borrowing capabilities and funding arrangements made the project better value for money”
Hugh Wark, Network Rail
Most of the new line will run on the route of the old Waverley Line, which ran from Edinburgh to Carlisle.
Although the original line was twin track, the new one is mostly single track with three loops to allow trains to pass. There is provision for future double tracking as well as for electrification.
“There will be a half-hourly service,” says Wark. “At those levels it would be too expensive to double track.”
About 5km of the 49km route will run on existing track. This runs from Newcraighall Junction through southern Edinburgh to the city’s main station at Waverley.
The remainder will require completely new track to be built on the route of the old line.
With the legislation put in place in 2006, Transport Scotland, rather than Network Rail, promoted the project using a design build finance and maintenance (DBFM) procurement model valued at £155M. Services were originally earmarked to begin in 2011, but progress stalled for “various reasons”, according to Wark. Preliminary work, land acquisition and utility diversions began in 2007 but tendering for the DBFM operator was delayed until 2010.
Three bidders were in the running for the contract, but the IMCD consortium - consisting of contractors Carillion, Sir Robert McAlpine and Spanish firm Iridium Concesiones de Infrastructuras - and New Borders Railway, made up of contractors Fluor and Miller with banking firm Uberior Infrastructure Investments, pulled out in 2011 - leaving just Bam Nuttall in the competition.
At this point Transport Scotland decided that, rather than awarding the project to a DBFM project vehicle, which would have to raise its own, project specific finance, it would be better to give Network Rail responsibility for financing the new line and getting it built. As result responsibility for the job transferred back to Network Rail in September 2011.
“Using Network Rail’s borrowing capabilities and funding arrangements made the project better value for money,” says Wark.
Network Rail restarted the procurement process using early contractor involvement and awarded the £294M construction contract to Bam Nuttall inDecember 2012. By this stage the total cost of the scheme was expected to be £350M, largely as a result of changes in scope since initial project estimates were made in 2006.
“We have employed an environmental clerk of works and have strict codes of practice [to conform to environmental constraints]”
Nissar Mohammed, Bam Nuttall
“It includes additional bridges and road alterations,” explains Wark.
With a contractor finally on board, Wark and Bam Nuttall project director Nissar Mohammed are now geared up to recreate the line ready for passenger services in September 2015.
Bam Nuttall has split the project up into three sections along the line of the route (see map). The Waverley to Newcraighall Junction section joins onto area north, which runs from Shawfair to Gorebridge; area central runs from Gorebridge down to Bowshank Tunnel; and area south heads to the terminus at Tweedbank station.
Construction of the route is significantly different to a typical Network Rail project acknowledges Wark, as there is no need for possessions and the constraints they impose.
Network Rail has also awarded the construction work to a main contractor, rather than engaging framework suppliers as it does with most of its other work.
As a result Bam Nuttall is able to use its own supply chain for the work. It is also bringing resources from its construction divisions in Ireland and the Netherlands to help with construction. “We can use regional resources to help complete the job,” says Mohammed.
Bam Nuttall has been handed an outline design for the route, but has brought in consultants Atkins, Donaldsons, URS, Fairhurst and Delta Rail to carry out detailed design work.
Most of the project involves restoring the original 44km route from just north of Shawfair station in south Edinburgh to Tweedbank in the Borders. The line was known for its steep gradients and has two tunnels at Bowshanks and Torwoodlee.
The condition of the route is “very variable” says Wark.
“Some areas are quite good such as the masonry structures,” he says. “Other areas such as some of the steel bridges require much more work.”
The contractor will refurbish a total of 94 bridges, including 13 wrought iron structures.
Repairing these bridges involves removing the timber deck, shotblasting the ironwork, carrying out weld repairs and then laying the new track.
Wark and Mohammed add that a key methodology behind restoring the route is “keeping it simple”.
An example is embankment works, where the contractor will carry out re-grading or soil nailing to retain existing structures rather than rebuilding them.
Some parts of the route will be subject to strict environmental constraints. The southern end of the route, for example, crosses over the Gala Water river several times, as well as areas of outstanding natural beauty, so natural habitats will have to be preserved during the construction phase.
“We have employed an environmental clerk of works and have strict codes of practice,” says Wark.
Most of the original route is still in place but the A7 road, which runs along parts of the route and crosses it at various points, requires the construction of new bridges and crossings.
Preliminary work on the new track for the area north section in Edinburgh has already thrown up surprises. Ground stabilisation work was needed to prevent historical mine works from causing subsidence.
“We grouted more voids than we expected to,” recalls Mohammed, adding that this work is now mostly complete.
With the contract only signed two months ago Bam Nuttall hopes to ramp up construction from March. Mohammed hopes to have the civil works completed by the autumn of 2014, with track and ballast in place by the end of 2014.
This will allow telecoms installation to begin by the start of 2015 and with the start of services starts September 2015.