The UK railway network plays an important role in boosting the nation’s economy; you only have to look at the fact that 1.6bn train journeys are now being made by passengers to see this is the case. And with this number only expected to increase, it is vital that the network can meet demand. To this end, we have seen record Government investment in our railways which include the £1.5 billion National Signalling Framework and major re-signalling projects such as the Stafford Area Improvements Programme.
Modernising ageing signalling infrastructure can be highly complex and these schemes take years of planning and organisation to be able to commission them in a matter of hours. Take for example the East Sussex Coast Re-signalling project which was successfully commissioned by Atkins and Network Rail in just 54 hours over the weekend of the 13/16 February 2015. Designed to deliver a safer, faster more punctual railway for the travelling public, the project prepares the Eastbourne area in the South East of England for the introduction of a new traffic management operating system in the future.
Covering an area from Eastbourne in the south to Lewes Station in the west and Bexhill Station in the east, the aim of the project was to re-signal 26 miles of life expired mechanical infrastructure, with a modern, state of the art signalling system. In some cases, the equipment that was replaced was up to 100 years old! The scheme saw line speeds increased to 90mph, 10 level crossings upgraded and six existing signal boxes abolished with control of the new signalling system, being transferred to the new Three Bridges Route Operating Centre (TBROC) 40 miles towards London.
The project used a number of innovative technologies such as Frauscher digital axle counters and Vaughan Harmon Logic Controller (VHLC) level crossing technology. Atkins has used VHLC technology on a number of level crossings because it takes up less space, requires fewer cables and doesn’t have as many moving parts. These advantages mean that it costs less to upgrade and maintain the level crossings and no human intervention is needed to control them. This in turn means that the level crossing is safer because they are designed to function effectively on their own with a very high level of reliability.
After months of careful planning by the Atkins/Network Rail team, the East Sussex commissioning went off without a hitch. Undertaken in five, 12 hour shifts, at one point there were over 300 engineers and staff on site at the same time dismantling the critical parts of the old signalling system and bringing the new one into use. During this time, VHLC was applied to the 10 level crossings across the East Sussex project, which was the most level crossings that Atkins has brought into service at the one commissioning. To get a good idea of the work involved in a project such as this, Network Rail produced a video on the commissioning which can be viewed here.
Re-signalling projects are an important part of the upgrades that are taking place across the network as they improve reliability and boost capacity. The East Sussex Coast Re-signalling project was brought into service without any failures on 16 February and since then, passenger services have been benefitting from the new technology that has been used. By modernising signalling equipment and systems, it is projects like East Sussex that are providing the essential building blocks for the introduction of a new traffic management operating system which will revolutionise the way the railway functions. Watch this space.