SIGNALLING SOFTWARE problems last week forced Network Rail to extend a 13 week West Coast Main Line blockade in the north west by another nine weeks.
This is the first time Network Rail has had to extend a blockade on the WCML since they were introduced three years ago.
Delays on the £200M Sandbach to Wilmslow improvement (SWIM) are being caused by an Italian-designed Computer Based Interlocking (CBI) signalling system.
It is being installed on the route as part of a 'next generation signalling' trial.
Supplier Ansaldo struggling to translate Italian software so that it can run on the UK system and meet safety standards. It has asked for an extra nine weeks to find and repair glitches found in commissioning.
'It is very disappointing for everyone on the scheme, ' Network Rail chief executive John Armitt told NCE.
'It is the first date that we have missed for the last three years on the project. But the good thing is that on the project it is the exception.' The track upgrade and re-signalling project was planned with a 13 week blockade of the line from December last year.
Ansaldo has a £50M contract to install the new high tech signalling system.
The 50km route was due to reopen on 26 March but will now remain closed until 2 June.
Three train operating companies are affected by the delay.
They are: Northern Trains, Virgin and Arriva Wales.
Network Rail has been trialling the use of CBI signalling systems for a couple of years to find the best platform for its next generation of signalling.
Ansaldo and German firm Siemens have taken part so far.
The advantage of CBI is that, with fewer moving parts, it is more reliable, cheaper to maintain and more flexible.
Two years ago a very basic single junction trial of the Ansaldo system was installed in Cheadle Hulme. A Siemens alternative was installed on the Dorset coast last year.
'The Dorset coast scheme was a very tricky one to bring in to completion, ' Armitt admitted this week. 'We are, again, having to rewrite a lot of the software to match the UK network and that has proved very difficult on the SWIM project.' By comparison, the SWIM signalling is much more complex, with multiple junctions and six stations on the 50km of track.
But as it is a relatively lightly used part of the network off the main West Coast route, Network Rail decided that it was suffi iently non-critical to risk the trial.
Network Rail this week remained confi nt that the problems could be easily resolved. It said that the trial experience meant it was possible to accurately quantify the current problem and so say precisely what work is needed to resolve it.