Heat and dust presented unexpected challenges this summer, during the three month, £200M remodelling of Derby’s strategically located railway station.
Safety has to be an absolute given on any Network Rail contract and full PPE is an absolute requirement. Steel toe capped boots, high visibility over-clothing, gloves, safety glasses and helmets must to be worn at all times. Even in temperatures of 30ºC-plus.
So it was that Network Rail found itself this hot summer having to deal with an unusual challenge on its massive Derby station remodelling scheme – dehydration of personnel. Combating this meant wholesale distribution on site of bottled water.
15,000 litres in two weeks
“We handed out 15,000l in just two weeks of particularly hot weather,” says Network Rail project manager Kerry Arrowsmith. “Along with loads of sun block.”
Suitably hydrated and screened, the workforce maintained the high level of activity needed by an extraordinarily tight programme: just 79 days in which to carry out major track realignment, resignalling and platform modification in and around Derby station.
The cost of the scheme gives an idea of its scale: £200M is a lot to spend in under three months.
“The planning was intense and so has been the effort to keep on programme,” says Arrowsmith. “At worst, at one point we were six hours behind schedule. But we quickly made that up.” Approaching the end of the project, Arrowsmith can afford to relax. “We’re currently slightly ahead of where we should be,” she says, with a smile.
Derby station serves as a substantial junction, taking traffic from all points of the compass. Trains come and go from London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Crewe and Matlock among many other places. It is a busy station with – prior to remodelling – a cat’s cradle of railway lines not really suited to 21st century needs.
“Design of the layout dated from the late 1960s; it reflected the then demand for heavy freight movements within the East Midlands,” says Network Rail senior sponsor Kevin Newman.
“The nature of freight traffic has changed in the intervening years and so have passenger numbers, which have doubled in recent times.”
There was a growing need to improve efficiency for the benefit of customers. This coincided with a requirement to replace ageing signalling throughout the station area and the approach to “end of life condition” of the permanent way along with switch and crossing units. As one railway worker puts it: “A perfect storm was approaching.”
’Biggest ever engineering scheme’
It was decided that Derby station should undergo what is claimed (unofficially, on site) to be Network Rail’s biggest ever engineering scheme.
“We had four principal objectives,” Newman says. “We aimed to reduce journey times by increasing efficiency. We could do this by segregating services, increasing line speed and generally improving performance.
“Secondly, we wanted to remodel and simplify the track and signalling layout. While doing this we could achieve our third objective – renewing life expiring signalling and track infrastructure in the area.
“Lastly we wanted to deliver a layout ready for future electrification.” It added up, he says, to the biggest rail investment in Derby station for decades. “Derby is a key component of the Midland Main Line Upgrade.”
Work started on Sunday 22 July and was due to finish as New Civil Engineer went to press. Siemens was awarded the general remodelling of the station area including signalling and related civils plus control centre works. Galliford Try won Derby’s new island platform – designated platforms six and seven – plus improvements to platforms two, three, four and five. Three new buildings were also included in Galliford Try’s package, a first class lounge, retail unit and staff facility.
The remodelling work was carried out in two distinct phases, the first between 22 July and 2 September, and the second between 2 September and 7 October.
Derby Station scheme
Network Rail’s Infrastructure Signalling Northern (East Midlands)
Siemens (signalling, E&P and control centre works); Galliford Try (new platform, adjustments to existing platforms)
22 July to 7 October 2018
Plant and materials
New track installed: 14.47km
Engineering trains (new materials in, muck away): 240
“Derby is a weird one in terms of geography. The main route through the station goes south to north but there is also a connection west to north,” says Arrowsmith. “So it’s a bit like a triangle. We started work to the west of the site and moved east towards the station. We then moved south and have worked north through the station itself.”
The site has been intensely busy. “Workforce safety has been the obvious priority: we’ve had to be constantly vigilant,” says Newman. Blockades were in place as necessary, but passenger trains were run wherever and whenever possible. Other traffic included engineering trains and trains accessing the Bombardier train works nearby.
“We only had one ‘free wheels’ day when absolutely no trains ran,” he says. “That was on 2 September, to allow testing and commissioning of the signalling. All the other days we had to look out for traffic.”
In the meantime, thousands of tonnes of waste were removed and 150,000t of track ballast imported, as 15km of track was replaced and relaid to a new configuration.
Dust became a problem, especially as ballast was placed in the very dry conditions. The workforce was well protected: anyone working with a 30m exclusion zone of ballast drops or “wackering” of ballast was equipped with an air fed mask for protection. And a dust suppression system helped keep nuisance to a minimum. That said, on one windy day in particular a nearby car dealership had to get out all its buckets and chamois leathers. There were many cars to clean.
“We’ve worked hard to reduce impact on our neighbours,” says Newman. This, apparently, was one occasion when they did not entirely succeed.
Heavy plant featured mightily in the Derby remodelling. Everything from placing and tamping ballast to cutting out concrete, lifting old sleepers and laying complete sections of new track has been heavily mechanised. During site preparation, not all was simple.
“We carried out a good deal of ground investigation beforehand and knew about the wet spots,” says Arrowsmith.
“We had less information about the uncharted services which were many and varied and also that some of the concrete blocks underground were actually as big as Transit vans.”
The platform works were interesting, not least because the station area’s “centre of gravity” has been effectively shifted westwards. Existing platforms (platforms two/three and four/five) were extended to the west (and in the case of the previously short platform five, rebuilt) and had their eastern ends lopped; all to do with eliminating platform curvature.
A good deal of precast concrete was employed in the extensions and also in the entirely new island platform (platforms six/seven).
“The remodelling represents a massive simplification of what was there before, making the station easier to operate and maintain,” says Newman.
“There can now be quicker train movements within the station complex, the smoother curves permit ting line speeds of 30mph and 40mph rather than the previous 15mph.”
Segregation of services will also contribute to reduced journey times. “Trains between London and the North, for instance, will be able to take a dedicated approach to their designated platforms, rather than slowly crossing multiple lines to get into the station,” he says.
Users of the Derby complex include the train operating companies, Bombardier, Rolls Royce – which has a factory nearby – and East Midlands Trains’ Eches Park depot. Plus, of course, and not least, the travelling public.
“Everything’s gone to plan and gone well,” Newman says. “We hope all our customers are happy with the improvements.”
Derby Station history
Derby station opened in 1840 and has undergone many changes, not least this century, to the amount and type of traffic using it and passing through.
Passenger numbers have doubled over the last 20 years while heavy freight movement – particularly of coal and minerals in the East Midlands – has fallen.
The station itself was modernised in 2013 but its track layout – last modified nearly 50 years ago – still reflected a freight related heritage. Passenger trains between London and the North had to cross several tracks to reach a platform.
Remodelling has reduced bottlenecks and enabled quicker and much more efficient passage of rail traffic.