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North East round-up

North East round-up

03/07/2007 | Channel: Business Improvement, Franchises, Security, Infrastructure

There’s plenty to celebrate on the railways in the North East, declares Network Rail’s RACHEL LOWE. In 2006/07 the area beat a number of key targets; among them signal failures, points failures, broken rails, and dealing with the effects of autumn.

A huge portfolio of enhancements has been developed by Network Rail in the North East and this has already delivered tangible benefits and a better service for freight and passenger customers, some of which are highlighted below. However a quick glance at the delay minutes tells a different story and, for that, there is one clear culprit – cable theft.

The theft of the copper cabling used in the signal systems from the lineside and from work sites is the single most significant challenge facing Network Rail in the North East. High scrap value for copper is attracting thieves, resulting in over 191,000 minutes delay on the LNE in 2006/07 and costing the route around £10 million. More than 145,000 of those minutes were in the North East area.

Dyan Crowther, route director, said: “Preventing cable thefts and catching those who are causing delay for our customers is a real priority for us in the North East. We are working closely with the British Transport Police (BTP) and industry stakeholders and have tightened security at locations where we store cable. The Network Rail helicopter is at work, protecting locations and pursuing thieves.

“We are also committed to a continuous education programme that has already reaped rewards. Thanks to the extra vigilance of train drivers, along with signallers, maintenance operations managers and track side staff, this has led to cable theft attempts being foiled and more than 200 arrests being made.”

Service improvements
Despite the cable issue, the North East continues to deliver for customers and has achieved some real benefits. A simple example is the introduction of longer trains to the Harrogate line, facilitated by Network Rail delivering longer platforms at several stations along the route on time and on budget.

Since December 2006, passengers have benefited from almost 1700 additional seats on peak-time trains services into and out of Leeds. The six additional train units running in and through West Yorkshire include the peak-time services from York and Harrogate via Horsforth and from Halifax and Bradford on the Caldervale Line. Additional capacity is also being made available on services into and out of Leeds from Huddersfield, Knottingley, Selby and Sheffield. All services in the North East are now controlled through a world-class Integrated Electronic Control Centre (IECC) in York which co-locates Network Rail staff with their train operator counterparts, improving communication and reducing delay.

The replacement of a rail bridge in Hartlepool won the recognition of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) – North East (NE) at their annual Robert Stephenson Awards. The £2.7 million project saw the old bridge cut into four and the new one
lifted into place in August 2006, resulting in increased train speeds and improved journeys for passengers.

The ICE NE judges said “This rail bridge project required a solution which satisfied some extremely demanding engineering constraints including very high skew, large span and programme. The design extrapolated a standard rail bridge solution well beyond its normal range of application. The client showed sound judgement in balancing value for money, health and safety, and environmental issues by promoting replacement instead of refurbishment. The implementation team demonstrated great expertise in planning, delivery, technical know-how, combined with a co-operative approach.”

The first stage of a multi-million pound scheme to re-signal the Durham coast line will be commissioned in July. The Cliff House to Greatham section cost around £5 million and included the replacement of 26 location cases and laying around 2km of cable.

The next section, which is just beginning, runs from Stranton to Hall Deane and is expected to cost in excess of £20 million. Once complete the work will reduce passenger train headways from 17 minutes to ten minutes and freight from 26 minutes to 15 minutes.

Around and about Hull
Walton Street level crossing in Hull is possibly the only skewed, dual carriageway level crossing in UK and one of the largest in Europe. Over time a build up of grit and salt laid on the track during the winter caused track circuit failures, leading to the
barriers coming down for no reason, delaying traffic on the A63 – a main route into Hull.

Over two weekends more than 800 yards of track was renewed, the road profile was improved and a new rubber surface laid to reduce the risk of circuit failures in the future. The result – an improved performance in winter 2006/07.

Elsewhere in Hull plans have been unveiled for a substantial investment in the rail infrastructure serving the Humber Ports. The partnership of Network Rail, Associated British Ports, The Northern Way and Yorkshire Forward continues to develop a package of works best suited to the needs of freight customers. Already £13.1 million is committed to the partial double-tracking and upgrade of the Hull Docks branch line, increasing capacity from ten to 22 trains in each direction per day. The first commissioning for that project is scheduled for December 2007.

Big trains
South of the Humber, £10 million is being invested in the Brigg line to allow the movement of regular scheduled freight. This traffic will be mostly coal to Cottam and West Burton Power stations and using this route will significantly improve productivity for coal trains as it is shorter distance and not slowed by the bottleneck at Doncaster. This work is entirely funded by Network Rail and will also serve to divert freight away from Lincoln.

Freight running between York and Carlisle has become more efficient with the introduction of Jumbo coal trains in April 2006. The 760 metre-long trains allow EWS to move 3000 tonnes of coal in a single timetable slot – freeing up capacity for other services as well as allowing EWS to move more tonnes per mile.

A standard length coal train conveying imported coal from Hunterston is attached to another standard length coal train from one of the Ayrshire opencast mines at Carlisle Yard. The two portions are detached at York Yards, with one going to Drax Power Station and the other to Ratcliffe Power Station.

Substantial work was required to facilitate the running of the jumbo trains. Challenges included identifying robust movement paths due to the limited number of locations available to hold and potentially regulate the train. Similarly signallers in Tyneside have faced the tough challenge of flighting the train amongst the high speed passenger services of GNER, Virgin Cross Country and First TransPennine Express on the two-track sections of the East Coast Mainline between Birtley and Tursdale junctions and Ferryhill junction and Northallerton.

Esk Valley steam services
Infrastructure work to allow North York Moors Railway (NYMR) to run their own services on Network Rail track for the first time was completed in March 2007. Services are now running over the six-mile stretch between Grosmont and Whitby, completing the route from Pickering to the east coast on the Esk Valley line. It marked the return of timetabled steam trains to the route after more than 40 years and was the first time that a heritage rail company obtained a licence to operate on the national network.

Dyan Crowther said: “We needed to carry out some minor works to the rail infrastructure. It has also required a large amount of backroom work in ensuring that our signalling systems were robust and that NYMR signallers and drivers were correctly trained to allow through services to run safely with no impact on the other passenger services which regularly use the route.

“This is a great achievement by all parties and will bring real benefits to local people and to the tourists who want to visit Whitby and the surrounding towns.”

Station improvements
Customers using Leeds station – currently the only station in the North East that is operated directly by Network Rail – continue to report high levels of satisfaction with the service they receive. The station serves 84,000 passengers a day and deals with around 1000 train movements. Development work to establish if there is a business case for opening a second entrance at the south side of the station is being carried out.

Meanwhile station improvements have also been carried out at – among others – Darlington, Beverley, Bolton-on-Dearne and York, with more in the pipeline.

Looking ahead
So what lies ahead for the North East? Clearly the East Coast Route Utilisation Strategy, published for consultation in June, will raise further challenges. Meanwhile the new east coast franchise operator announced in the autumn will bring their own ideas and plans to the region. Continued work to prevent and mitigate against the theft of cable is also likely to remain a high priority for the foreseeable future. But Dyan Crowther is confident that the region is in a good position to meet those – and other challenges: “The tough standards set for us externally in terms of asset and financial management are nothing compared to the targets we set for ourselves,” she said.

“We have a substantial investment programme planned for the North East, aimed at increasing capacity and improving services for our customers. We will never lose sight of the imperative to run a safe and reliable railway each and every day but
with demand for rail travel growing year on year we are ambitious for the future
and will continue to work closely with our colleagues in the industry to ensure that our customers get the service they deserve and that we would wish to give them.”

Railway Strategies would like to thank Network Rail’s Rachel Lowe for compiling this feature.
Tel: 01904 383 180
Email: Rachel.Lowe@networkrail.co.uk
Web: www.networkrail.co.uk