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Robbie Burns: Overground challenge

Building Crossrail is much more than tunnelling under London − the majority of the network will be overground and will be designed, delivered and eventually managed by Network Rail.

The bulk of Crossrail’s £15.9bn cost may come from the tunnels to be driven and stations to be built underneath London. But these tunnels serve little purpose in isolation. The majority of the 118.5km line, from Maidenhead and Heathrow in the west, to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east, is overground.

The central tunnelled section stretches for 21km of that length between Royal Oak in west London to Limmo Peninsular, Canary Wharf and Woolwich in east London. But outside that, to feed passengers in and out, lines must be modified and remodelled to get the vast numbers of passengers into the capital.

According to Network Rail’s major programme director for Crossrail Robbie Burns, its involvement is deeper than may first be supposed − and it starts with the money.

“We have been involved with the timetabling, as this new route will be integrated into our national network.”

Robbie Burns, Network Rail

“We have been heavily involved in the development of Crossrail in a number of different ways. Not least we have been involved with the timetabling, as this new route will be integrated into our national network” he says.

Working with Crossrail, Network Rail has developed an “access option” 30 year timetable that provides access rights for future Crossrail services on the rail network. “On the basis of those rights they could guarantee a funding stream,” says Burns, “which of course allows them to borrow some of the money they need to build it.”

“It was a key element of this process,” he says.

Network Rail is also heavily involved in specifying the railway systems. “We have been working closely with Crossrail and its delivery partners on the specification of the central tunnelled section, as a decision was taken a few months ago that we would be the infrastructure manager of the entire route, including the central London section.”

Seamless integration

This decision means that there can be complete and seamless integration of the new service with the existing network. “On balance, it was felt we were the right choice and that the rules we use for operation of the national rail network should be used for the central tunnelled sections. We were keen that the designs would be appropriate and there would be sufficient access [for maintenance],” he said.

Maintenance windows will be comparable to those on the tube today − 4 or 4.5 hours per night.

More consistency has been achieved with the use of the same project delivery partner for the work on the tunnel − global giant Bechtel. “Joining our team are 50 people from the West Coast Main Line upgrade, including the implementation manager. They are bringing a wealth of experience with them and they have the advantage that their compatriots on Crossrail are well known to them. It was a good outcome of two independent decisions.” Burns is keen to stress that “the competitions were absolutely fair” to appoint Bechtel for both contracts.

“Joining our team are 50 people from the West Coast Main Line upgrade, including the implementation manager. They are bringing a wealth of experience with them.”

Robbie Burns, Network Rail

Network Rail will also oversee around £2bn of line upgrades and other work for the three overground Crossrail spurs. “The bulk of the work is between Paddington and Maidenhead, but significant work is planned at Abbey Wood and Stratford,” he said. On the shortest stretch, at Abbey Wood, new lines will be built between the existing rail lines that feed in from north Kent.

“Around 2km to 3km of the new lines and the re-built Abbey Wood station will be constructed between the North Kent lines. We expect there to be a significant number of passengers travelling from Gillingham, Chatham and Rochester who will want to join the Crossrail service for connections to Canary Wharf and the City. The idea is that the passenger interchange will not involve lifts and stairs, but will be across the platform,” he says.

There will also be a facility for up to 16 trains per hour to turn around at Abbey Wood, which Burns describes as a “complicated arrangement”. “There is currently limited infrastructure. There will also be a lot of new footbridges and some significant embankment work.”

A range of work

Work between Stratford and Shenfield is perhaps a little more straightforward, he says. “We have a range of work − that includes a turnback facility at Shenfield. There will be significant refurbishment of Romford and Ilford stations and a new control centre is planned at Romford, with new track and station work along the route.”

But, he says, this work will pale in comparison to the work west from Paddington. Work on the Paddington ‘throat’ will be significant. “We will develop a new turnback facility at Westbourne Park. At peak times, 14 westbound trains per hour will turn back at Westbourne Park, with 10 trains going forward on to the Great Western Main Line. Four of these will go to Heathrow, four will operate to Maidenhead and two will turn back at West Drayton.”

Plans are also being put in place to use the rail network for the removal of some of the excavated material from the tunnelling underneath London.

“There is a huge volume of work on a very busy section of this line, that will also see other performance and capacity improvements.”

Robbie Burns, Network Rail

“We are securing the paths to handle the huge volume of material. There will be in the order of five paths per day for a period of two and a half to three years. Having certainty over the transportation of this material is important. We are working with Crossrail to develop that: looking at travelling via the West London Line and on to Kent, but we are yet to finalise that,” he says.

Another large job is at Airport Junction, where the Heathrow Spur meets the Great Western Main Line. “Here, we will build an additional flyover with a bifurcated junction to link with both the main and relief lines. This is a big and complicated job. There is a huge volume of work on a very busy section of this line, that will also see other performance and capacity improvements between now and 2017.”

The western route is also subject to other work, such as the plan to electrify the line to Swansea and to redevelop Paddington station. “It is my job to make sure that this work is coordinated. I think we feel the West Coast has had a big spend, and it is now time for the Great Western to be converted to a railway fit for the 21st century. Crossrail is part of that.”

Work will also consider possible future extensions of Crossrail services to Reading. No decision has been made on whether this will happen, but the route has been safeguarded.

Jumping through hoops

Before construction can begin, Network Rail has a few further hoops to jump through. The Treasury has strict review points that Network Rail must meet. The most important is Review Point 4 in September 2010, when Network Rail must submit its detailed pricing for its Crossrail work.

“We are financing the work to our existing network ourselves through the regulatory process so all the money we are spending is going to be borrowed against the regulatory asset base.

“The Office of Rail Regulation has a key part to play. They have to be satisfied that the delivery is efficient. If it is not efficiently delivered, they will not support the borrowing. This work should give the Treasury and others a lot of confidence,” he says.

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