Upgrading the UK’s railway stations through innovation

railsurfacing

As featured in the June edition of the Railway Strategies Magazine

STATION refurbishment has become a huge industry in the UK. Many of the country’s major railway stations have either undergone or are currently undergoing facelifts, and it was about time.

There are 2,500 stations on the national railway network and the majority of these are over 100 years old. With approximately 2.6 billion passengers passing through every year, the facilities at many stations were simply not fit for purpose.*

The £37.5 billion plan the Government has put in place to improve Britain’s railways is a fantastic opportunity not only for the construction and maintenance industry, but for Train Operating Companies (TOCs) too.

Considerations

With the high volume of trains and passengers going through stations every day, refurbishment work can be a challenge.

Keeping disruption to a minimum, ensuring the safety of all passengers and station employees, restricted site access, and possessions with limited working windows are all considerations contractors working in the rail environment need to consider. This is where innovation takes an important role in the railway refurbishment industry.

A number of factors need to be considered when specifying and planning refurbishment work. For example, all work completed needs to comply with Network Rail Group standards, as well as being delivered in accordance with approved, scheme specific designs. Using a Link-up approved contractor validates the standard of rail civil engineering work a contractor will provide and demonstrates the appropriate systems and procedures required to work within the rail environment.

More than just a new Costa coffee

Many people think of railway station refurbishment as building new coffee shops and upgrading the toilets. Whilst these are important for end-users, the crucial refurbishment work is being carried out on the station platforms.

Platforms get used heavily every day and many now need to be upgraded and resurfaced as they were simply not designed to support the current volume of people and luggage, or are approaching the end of their design life. Many platforms are also being considered for extensions to accommodate larger trains with more passengers.

This was the case at Ansdell and Fairhaven station. Due to the approaching British Open Golf Tournament, refurbishment and extension was needed to a disused section of the platform, to accommodate additional carriages. The timescales were tight as they needed to be complete before the tournament started and access to the platform was limited as the station was below road level. JPCS developed a platform configuration scheme and worked with the adjacent golf club to gain better access to the site. Also, the existing fencing and handrails were in good condition so we reused them to reduce costs.

So, how can surfaces that need to be repaired or even replaced be identified? There are many signs that a surface may be in need of treatment, repair or replacement. The aesthetic appearance may be poor, there could be visible pooling water, or the surface could be uneven, making it an unsafe tripping hazard. The life of the surface may also have expired through oxidising of bitumen, which leads to deterioration of the surface course material.

A surface fit for purpose

Selecting the type of surface solution for each platform is important. Traditionally a six millimetre dense macadam surface course was always used on railway station projects, but this could take a number of shifts to complete, with challenges including access, possession times and costs, not to mention disruption.  To address these issues, we have been working with clients to develop alternative solutions. Over the past three years, JPCS has been successfully laying bespoke microasphalt on a number of station platforms across the country, including major sites in London, Liverpool and Birmingham.

Microasphalt has a number of advantages in the rail environment. The material is cold and hand applied and mixed on site once a possession starts. It is also faster to apply and there is no waste or large machinery – a great benefit for stations with difficult access issues. This means possession times and most importantly costs can be significantly reduced, not to mention improved safety and reduced disruption for passengers.

An area of around 250-350 square metres can be resurfaced in a four hour possession, compared to the potential four or five shifts needed using traditional methods. Once the surface is laid, the platform can be left safe and complete by the end of the shift, ready to open for the first passengers to walk on within 30 minutes.

Innovative versus traditional approaches to railway station refurbishment

Leyton Midland Road, a busy London Overground station was recently refurbished using microasphalt as an alternative to the traditional surface course. Using microasphalt was ideal for this site due to challenging access to the station platform – three flights of stairs. As the microasphalt is mixed on site and cold applied, access issues were reduced and safety improved. Disruption to the station and passengers was also minimised significantly. The 600 square metre platform was resurfaced on a Sunday in just one shift during a blockade (a long possession) and the surface was ready for passengers within 30 minutes.

Another recent refurbishment project at Bolton railway station, required platform resurfacing and modular paving on an island platform. This project was resurfaced with a traditional surface course. All the work needed to be undertaken alongside normal station activities and with train services in operation. Minimum disruption to passengers was also a key consideration for the client. Our solution was to phase and plan works to maintain walking routes, D-notices were in place during the works and some works were carried out outside normal hours. This minimised station disruption and improved on-site safety, as well as being completed to programme and on budget.

Beyond surfaces

There is, of course, a lot more refurbishment work that takes place other than platform surfaces. The station furniture, including benches, shelters, ticket machines and bins, also need to be maintained and upgraded. The challenge here is that many need foundations on the platforms and concourses. Some of the built structures, especially the Victorian built structures, may not have the strength to provide the foundations needed.

This is where another civil engineering innovation comes in. Groundscrew – a concrete-free foundation system – has been used extensively on highways products, and is the perfect solution for the railway refurbishment market. Groundscrew is a robust foundation system and a sustainable alternative to traditional concrete foundations for modular platform extensions, platform and track furniture, and signage. The system removes the need for excavation and concreting, so where you would usually cast small concrete pads Groundscrew can be used instead.

It previously achieved Form A and Form B approval for use as a ground foundation in location cabinet stagings, small ground signals, and small trackside signage and allows signs, fencing, benches and other structures to be positioned quickly and easily – a significant advantage during possessions.

Changing passenger needs

Railway passengers have also changed – more people are using rail, so there is a greater demand on station space for parking and bike storage. Car parking space is crucial for convenience to passengers and has been shown to maximise footfall. As well as platform resurfacing, JPCS also undertakes refurbishment works to all Network Rail Property, including car park construction and resurfacing at railways stations and depots.

A recent project at Marple Station for Network Rail/Northern Rail, involved resurfacing the existing car park adjacent to the station. In order to minimise disruption, work was required to be completed within the shortest possible time, whilst delivering the highest standards of service and safety. The car park was closed at 5am on Monday, with passenger access routes maintained, and re-opened to the public on the following Wednesday evening – closing for less than three working days. The project was completed in December 2012, on programme and to budget.

A Sport England survey found that over 200,000 more people are cycling at least once a week than in October 2011.** This means the demand for cycle storage space at stations is going to grow and with limited space available new products have appeared on the market. Street furniture manufacturer, Townscape Products Limited, recently installed a range of double stack bicycle racks which can hold 144 bikes, four times the number of bikes in the same space compared to traditional cycle storage. These new products and innovations are worth considering when planning refurbishment projects.

Looking forward

Recent announcements on high speed rail and electrification show the Government is certainly committed to improving Britain’s railway network. This is a fantastic opportunity for contractors and also good news for customers who will benefit from the developments.

How can engineers and contractors in the industry utilise this opportunity? They must demonstrate value for money, customer focus and an innovative approach for a chance to be part of this investment.

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* Figures from 2009 report on Better Railway Stations

** Figures from: https://www.goskyride.com/ShowArticle/Great-news-as-research-shows-regular-cycling-on-the-rise

As featured in the June edition of the Railway Strategies Magazine