In a bid to put behind it the well publicised delays and budget wrangles that have beset the West Coast Main Line (WCML) route modernisation project, Network Rail has taken direct control of the project's last section. The rail operator has set up a site office opposite Lichfield Station to oversee the upgrade from two to four track of the 19km Trent Valley bottleneck between Tamworth and Armitage.
Work was launched by secretary of state for transport Alistair Darling last month.
The £300M project to double capacity on this busy section of the WCML will complete the high speed London-Scotland connection in 2008. It will separate high speed services from domestic and freight, ensuring fast trains are not snarled up behind slow moving traffic. The extra capacity will also make future track maintenance work easier, as trains can be diverted temporarily between fast and slow tracks.
As well as widening cuttings and embankments, and laying new track, the upgrade involves resignalling the existing tracks, and extending, upgrading or replacing some 45 bridges and culverts (see box). Designer for the works is Scott Wilson.
The main challenges are logistical. Interference with the busy operational railway must be minimised, yet over much of the 19km upgrade, work is being carried out within the limited confines of land already owned by Network Rail.
The project has been broken down into packages according to the type of work and geographic location.
Where the route runs through the villages of Tamworth, Lichfield and Armitage, space is tight and criss-crossed by roads. Cuttings will be widened by steepening soil slopes, as no additional land take is possible.
Soil nailing and retaining walls are being installed to ensure slope stability.
Embankments will be widened using an estimated 1Mm 3 of material. Although some of this will come from the cuttings, much of the excavated material will not be suitable for reuse.
Over 70% of the fill will have to be imported.
Work in these areas will require weekend rail possessions, says Network Rail project manager Keith Riley. He estimates 25 slots of 52 hours each will be needed. To maximise efficiency, possessions are being co-ordinated with those planned for remodelling of the adjoining Rugby station and Nuneaton stage two resignalling.
But along the rural sections of the route, compulsory purchase enables Network Rail to separate four-tracking work from the operating railway, minimising interference.
'A segregation barrier will be erected along the operating railway, separating it from the new rail works, effectively creating a greenfield environment for track and signalling installation, ' explains Riley.
To avoid clashes between site traffic and scheduled rail services, 'works will be serviced by new haul roads tied into the local highways network, allowing materials to be delivered by road', explains Riley. These are being installed by Alfred McAlpine.
One of the outcomes of the 18 month long public inquiry for the upgrade is that Network Rail has to protect species such as great crested newts, badgers and crayfish, and install noise barriers while work is being carried out - these are being fitted now by contractor Martins, while Birse is to carry out a package of work including viaduct reconstruction over the River Tame.
Out to tender in the next two months are contracts for embankment extensions, structures work at Handsacre and Armitage, structures at Anders and Alders, and Gungate Bridge reconstruction at Tamworth. None of the structures is major or particularly complex, Riley says, but replacing them is one of Network Rail's key challenges, as local roads must be kept open to traffic.
He is expecting many of the structures to be constructed off line and fitted into place during possessions.