Gateway takes shape
Currently one of the UK’s biggest city centre civil engineering projects, the Birmingham Gateway is a mammoth task. Contractors are busy redeveloping a major railway station while passengers continue to use it. Peter Plisner looks around
It’s difficult to work out exactly what’s happening on the Gateway project unless you actually get behind the hoardings and see for yourself. Apart from the hoardings, men in high visibility clothing and the odd crane, the passenger might be forgiven for thinking that not much is happening.
The project has been so well planned that, so far, there’s been little or no disruption to the smooth running of the station. It’s a tribute to those working on the project and something that Network Rail, and its delivery partner Mace, can feel immensely proud of. The fact is that the Birmingham Gateway scheme is a logistical nightmare, which requires nothing less than meticulous planning – and that’s exactly what’s happening.
The Gateway scheme will transform the dark and drab New Street station, which was last modernised in the 1960s. It’s certainly in need of a make-over and the Gateway project will do just that, while delivering much, much more. When it’s complete, the station will become a bright, modern 21st-century focal point for Birmingham.
It will double passenger capacity and deliver a concourse that’s more than three times bigger than at present, enclosed by a giant, light-filled atrium. There will also be more accessibility, with brighter and clearer platforms, serviced by more than 30 new escalators and 15 new public lifts. The station will have a stunning new façade and better links to the station for pedestrians, with new entrances and public space. Costing £600m, it’s not cheap, but the station is vital to the city and the arrival and departure point for hundreds of thousands of people every day.
During the first phase of the project, due for completion next year, engineers have been turning what used to be a busy car park, adjacent to the station, into a brand new concourse. In an effort to minimise disruption to passengers, the whole project is being managed in two distinct phases. First, half of the new concourse will be built and then passengers will be moved across and start using it. Only then will the existing concourse area be revamped.
By 2015, when the second phase is complete, both halves will be linked up and the completed New Street will finally be shown off in all its glory. But turning an old car park into a shiny new concourse hasn’t been easy and has required the removal of an entire floor of the car park. In the past few months workers have removed 7,500 tonnes – or more than 1,000 lorry loads – of concrete.
And it’s all been done with live railway lines below and a major shopping centre above. Concrete removal was completed last year and contractors have now started the fitout phase. A crucial part of the initial phase of the work has been the construction of a new service spine for the station.
It’s effectively the main artery for New Street, carrying electricity, gas, water and a few other things. It’s one of the biggest tasks on the first phase. The new spine weighs a staggering 260 tonnes and has been brought onto the site in modular form. It’s 110-metres long and needed to be built before much of the other fit-out was done. Contractors have also been bringing in a new power supply to the station, because the old connection to the National Grid wouldn’t have been up to the job. It’s meant the construction of new substations and the buildings to house them.
Many of the new lift and escalator shafts have now been dug too. The first of the new escalators are due to be delivered in August. Another part of the project involves building a new walkway connecting New Street station to nearby Moor Street station.
Currently passengers walk along a pavement that’s due to close when the second phase of the project starts. The new connection provides a much more direct route and will become permanent once the whole Gateway project is complete. Another major task, and probably one of the most visible parts of the project, is also now underway. Contractors are fitting special frames to hold up the stainless steel cladding that will make the new New Street station so iconic.
It’s slow progress, because there were no proper drawings of the 1960s station and the building has had to be surveyed from scratch. It’s meant that each frame has had to be specially made. It’s also being carried out close to one of the busiest thoroughfares for buses in the city – Stephenson’s Street has more than 100 buses an hour passing through it and has to be kept open. The first piece of cladding is due to be fitted in May this year.
Around the same time, the first pieces of the framework for the station’s dramatic new atrium will be delivered to site too. It will become the centrepiece of the new complex, allowing daylight to stream down into the station. Called the ‘bubble’ by contractors, it will effectively become a giant Meccano set, which will have to be assembled and then glazed. Elsewhere on the project, work on demolishing Stephenson’s Tower, an old council block of flats has also been completed.
In another development, Network Rail and Birmingham City Council have now appointed a new property consultant to lead the leasing of the Pallasades shopping centre, above the station. Part of the Gateway project now involves a significant upgrading and remodelling project for the centre.
The reconfigured Pallasades will consist of 150,000 sq ft of high-quality retail space in the heart of the city and will be located next to a new 250,000 sq ft John Lewis department store, which is scheduled to open in autumn 2014. So much is now happening on the Birmingham Gateway project that it’s a credit to the team working on it that most passengers using the station appear to be blissfully unaware of just how much work is actually going on.
The first phase is expected to be open to passengers by 2013, while the whole project is due for completion in 2015.