Great Western signals the way ahead
As re-signalling work progresses in the west of England, Katie Silvester takes a closer look at the scheme
A £400m re-signalling scheme for the Great Western will see delays on the line cut by 50 per cent. The improvement will be carried out in five stages, starting in the Didcot area, to minimise disruption. When complete in 2016, the signalling improvement will improve journey times and remove bottlenecks on the line, benefiting passengers travelling through Bristol, Bath, Chippenham, Swindon, Didcot, Reading, Newbury and Oxford.
The work is being carried out to enable the route to be ready to work with the electric Intercity Express trains that will begin using the route in 2016. The biggest programme of work will be carried out in the Bristol area, which is expected to see the highest passenger growth in the next decade at 44 per cent.
Around £150m will be spent on upgrading signalling infrastructure in the Bristol area, with the programme of work designed to complement another capacity-boosting scheme around Bristol Temple Meads.
Meanwhile, work at Swindon and Chippenham will complement the scheme to redouble the track between Swindon and Kemble, improving performance and capacity. Similarly, upgraded signalling between Newbury and Reading will enable better train movement and potentially allow more trains to run, especially in times of congestions on race days at Newbury.
Patrick Hallgate, route managing director for Network Rail Western, said: ‘We are safeguarding the long-term future of a vital rail artery in the south west of England and Thames Valley. The Great Western main line is running out of room with nearly 30 million journeys and a growth rate of at least five per cent each year. A robust and modernised signalling infrastructure is vital to cope with this burgeoning growth.
‘In a few years’ time, the signalling infrastructure will be considered life-expired but we are ahead of the game by starting the improvements now. This programme is a vital building block for the transformation of Great Western, boosting performance, paving the way for electrification and supporting major enhancement plans in Bristol, Swindon, Oxford, Reading and Newbury.’
To improve cost efficiency, new technology in the form of lightweight signals will be used in places. These innovative signals have LED powered lights, using a lightweight structure requiring less foundation that can be lowered to the ground for safe, efficient maintenance. The unit is quicker to install, more enduring, more environmentally friendly and is safer for staff to maintain as it removes the need to work at height.
However, the bulk of the work will not involve noticeable changes to the trackside.
‘Most of signalling is to get the route ready for electrification, more than lights on sticks being different out on the patch,’ adds Hallgate. ‘It started the Christmas before last with Reading where we had to knock down Reading signal box so we could redevelop the station. The Christmas just gone it moved to Paddington, which was much more around expanding the capability of the infrastructure or the computer system that runs it, as it was at capacity.’
The improvements will also be beneficial for Crossrail. ‘Until you’ve upgraded the interlockings, you couldn’t make the upgrades we needed to for Crossrail,’ adds Hallgate.