While many spent the Christmas and New Year break with family and friends, a 25,000-strong workforce laboured through £148 million worth of work for Network Rail.
In total 330 projects were completed over the festive period, a time when the network is at its quietest with around half of the usual 4.7 million people traveling on the network each day.
Although Transport for London conducted no major engineering work over Christmas, Team Orange was busy in the capital.
To help improve reliability around London Victoria, the 1970s-built track at Battersea Pier Junction was renewed and 12.5km of overhead wiring at Forest Gate junction, which was first installed in the 1950s on the Great Eastern mainline (GEML), was upgraded to prevent frequent failures that cause delays into Liverpool Street. The latter, part of a £250 million investment on GEML, will also enable more train services to support the growing number of passengers, new housing and the local economy.
Elsewhere in London, other works saw preparation for HS2 at London Euston continuing, track renewed at Holloway to improve the reliability of services into King’s Cross and old switches and crossings were replaced at Waterloo.
Outside of London, more than 160 engineers upgraded the track layout north of Wellingborough station as part of the Midland Main Line Upgrade. Ten new switches and crossings were installed as part of the major project to construct an additional line between Bedford and Kettering, which will create the capability for an extra train to London St Pancras per hour by the end of 2020.
Network Rail Christmas works spend
2016: £100 million
2017: £160 million
2018: £148 million
A major milestone was achieved on December 28 when Network Rail achieved its 100th high-speed handback of the year on the line at Milton Keynes Central.
The line is typically handed back for use by train operators at 50mph after track renewals to allow the ground beneath the new track to settle. Traditionally, the passage of the trains is used to consolidate the track for weeks until the track can be set into its final position, from which point the line speed is increased.
High Output track renewal systems are designed to handback at high speed and have done so for years. The challenge has been to do the same for conventional renewals programme.
Network Rail has been developing techniques to achieve higher speed handbacks for passenger services over the past few years. Crucial to this are various techniques to fully consolidate the track during construction, which means it no longer requires the passage of trains to do this.
Steve Featherstone, programme director for track at Network Rail, challenged his team to deliver 100 higher speed handbacks on conventional plain line and switches and crossings upgrades between April 2018 and March 2019. The team reached its goal three months early.
Other notable work includes signalling upgrades as part of the Weaver to Wavertree resignalling project in Merseyside, to enable more reliable journeys and boost capacity in the area, and the completion of a major project to move signalling to the modern Rail Operating Centre (ROC) in York
This important move kept 35 workers busy moving control of the signalling system from the Integrated Electronic Control Centre to the state of the art ROC in York. The process began after the last service on Christmas Eve and was completed ready for the first train service on December 27.
Moving control of signalling to the newer, more modern ROC, means passengers will benefit from more reliable journeys as the switch-over gives signallers a greater overview of the railway.
Network Rail CEO Andrew Haines said: “Over Christmas and New Year thousands of rail workers have been working round the clock to keep the railway running and to deliver crucial improvements to the network as part of the £50 billion railway upgrade plan.
“Our decision to do work at this time of year is entirely based on the fact that many regular passengers take this time as holiday, so it causes disruption to the smallest number of people. We really appreciate the patience of those who have been affected by this essential work, which will lead to better and more reliable train services.”
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