Completion of the track layout simplification at London’s King’s Cross is a major milestone for the East Coast Main Line Upgrade.
Commuters regularly travelling in and out of King’s Cross railway station in London will be all too familiar with the congestion at its approach. Trains must navigate a complex web of tracks as they enter and leave the terminus.
But a major transformation of the track, as part of the £1.2bn East Coast Main Line Upgrade, promises to make journeys quicker and more reliable.
Despite King’s Cross undergoing a significant modernisation in 2012, most of the track and signalling equipment that served the station was more than 40 years old and nearing the end of its operational life.
The realignment project, dubbed “King’s Uncrossed”, was delivered over three years by the Central Rail Systems Alliance, which includes Network Rail, Atkins, Balfour Beatty and TSO. The project, which was completed in June, has involved the delivery of more than 6km of new track.
Network Rail programme manager Mark Bell says: “It’s amazing when you see the old layout, which is now a thing of the past, and the space that is now there with the new layout.”
“It has been described as open heart surgery, in railway terms,” he adds.
To reduce the disruption caused by the scheme, Network Rail adopted a “half and half” approach. As such, platforms 0 to 6 were closed in March so the team could refurbish them and replace and realign the track, while platforms 7 to 11 remained in operation.
Work on site reached a significant milestone in April when platforms 0 to 6 reopened following the demolition of platform edges and the removal of overhead line equipment. This allowed the refurbishment of platforms 7 to 11 to start.
The project also involved reducing the overall number of platforms from 12 to 11, with platform 10 now replacing the location of platform 11. The simplified alignment will help to boost operational flexibility, with trains now capable of getting in and out of the station quicker.
“To get into platforms 0 to 3, for example, everything was really packed out to one road coming in. It was really quite difficult to get across and quite slow once you got into the throat area,” explains Bell. “The trains can [now] get up to much higher speeds straight away.”
The team also installed 50 new signals, more than 20km of new overhead wires and more than 30 new sets of points on the 2.4km approach to the station.
The disused eastern Gasworks Tunnel, which was closed in the 1970s, has also been reopened. This has allowed two additional tracks to be added to the approach to the station, further reducing congestion and improving the long term reliability of the route.
It has been described as open heart surgery, in railway terms
As part of the project, the signalling system between King’s Cross and Peterborough has been upgraded to a modern digital one with operations transferred from the local King’s Cross signal box to the Railway Operations Centre in York. According to Network Rail, the upgrade will help to drive efficiency and will help services to recover more quickly in the event of a disruption.
As part of the wider programme of work Network Rail has redesigned and rebuilt the Camden Sewer, which runs below the tracks outside the station. Previously, train speeds were constrained to protect the fragile Victorian structure. Rebuilding the sewer enables trains leaving the station to accelerate earlier and more quickly.
Further up the East Coast Main Line, work to build a dive-under is also continuing at Werrington, north of Peterborough. This will allow slower moving freight trains to run across and under the East Coast Main Line, removing conflicts between passenger and freight services.
Network Rail is getting to a place where it understands it is a passenger service organisation that delivers magical engineering outcomes
Passenger services have been able to run to and from King’s Cross station during the majority of the work, although there were three weekend closures in February, April and June. Bell says that delivering such a complex programme of work while the station remained open to passengers was a major achievement.
Network Rail principal programme sponsor Ed Akers adds that while the project has been hugely successful, significant lessons also have to be learned.
“I think one of them is just how you fit passenger objectives into the early phase development of a project like this,” he says. “We approached this as an engineering output. How do we make this project happen? How do we build it in some way, shape or form, and keep passengers moving?”
Akers says a more customer-centric approach would focus on “what we would like passengers to see and feel and what would we like the train service to be”.
“Network Rail is getting to a place where it understands it is a passenger service organisation that delivers magical engineering outcomes, not the other way round. And that is a learning process for us,” he says.
We’re doing the lessons learned piece now, while it’s fresh. We’re not going to wait to sit in a room together and discuss what was good and what wasn’t so good
Network Rail’s timetable plan for train services during the project was set to deal with a pre-Covid level of demand. But Akers admits that it would have been a lot harder to manage those passengers without the drop in demand during the government-imposed restrictions on non-essential travel.
He adds that the level of collaboration with all stakeholders across the project has been key to
Network Rail is already committed to carrying forward lessons from the project to future schemes.
“We’re doing the lessons learned piece now, while it’s fresh. We’re not going to wait to sit in a room together and discuss what was good and what wasn’t so good,” says Akers.
The long term plan is to share that insight with the wider industry and identify other major rail projects which could benefit, like the Transpennine Route Upgrade.
“The intention is to take that information out on a national roadshow,” Akers adds. “As an industry, we can’t continue what we’ve done traditionally, by uploading a lessons learned document into a national database or library. We have to try something a bit different to help us transfer that knowledge more widely.”
Department of Civil Engineering https://www.ibu.edu.ba/department-of-civil-engineering/