INTRO: The WCRM Track Alliance is using high output and conventional machines to relay the fast lines between London and Crewe

NOT FOR NOTHING did Richard Branson name a West Coast Main Line locomotive ’Mission Impossible’ when Virgin took over the InterCity West Coast franchise in March 1997. The West Coast Route Modernisation is exacting a high price from every organisation involved, and managers in charge of individual projects are called upon to deliver to timescales that require exceptional commitment.

Among them is Doug Gillespie, Project Director of the WCRM Track Alliance, whose organisation is contracted to rebuild by 2005 two of the four tracks of the West Coast route to accept 225 km/h tilting trains. Separate alliances have been formed to carry out work at major junctions (panel), and the Track Alliance is also contracted to help with some of this work.

The West Coast route is Britain’s busiest main line, handling a mix of inter-city, suburban and fast freight trains that must continue to run while rebuilding takes place. For the last 35 years the track has been pounded day-in-day-out by locomotives with axleloads up to 21·75 tonnes. Line speed was increased from 160 to 177 km/h in 1984, and in the last three years inter-city traffic in particular has risen far beyond expectations. In terms of increasing capacity, it would have been better to build a new line, but the political cost was deemed too high when this was proposed a decade ago.

The original concept for WCRM has changed almost beyond recognition, although the target completion dates remain set in stone. The first major deadline stands at May 2002, when Virgin plans to launch its Pendolino tilting trains at 200 km/h. The work required to fit the line for this service is now termed Phase 1. Phase 2 covers June 2002 to May 2005, when Virgin will step up speeds to 225 km/h to achieve further cuts in journey time (Table I).

Staff working for the Track Alliance are constantly reminded of the May 2002 deadline, by when the fast tracks between Euston and Crewe should be entirely relaid. In the reception area of Gillespie’s office in Birmingham, the number of days left to complete Phase 1 is relentlessly counted down on a large wall chart - no-one is allowed to forget that the clock is ticking.

Given that Gillespie founded the Track Alliance as a form of joint venture between Railtrack and Jarvis only on September 19 last year, its achievements seem little short of miraculous. ’At the time there were only about 10 of us’, he notes. Today, the organisation has 525 full-time employees, and this number will peak at around 650 next year when all worksites are in full swing. To this total must be added agency labour that is taken on mainly for weekend work. Railtrack has 23 people in the full-time team, many of them covering commercial and financial activities.

Planning timescale

It took Gillespie and his team six months to establish his organisation - a process which he says would normally take two years. The result was that a contract was signed and came into force on May 27 this year, allowing relaying teams to move on to sites the same month. But there has been a price to pay: ’in the first year the organisation is a bit dirty, with progress made in short-term planning jerks.’

Gillespie has built his plans on the ’ideal situation’, which would see the Phase 2 works completed by December 2003. He admits that ’this is a false environment’, devised purely for planning purposes. ’We built a target cost on this basis for each event to agree what the impact is.’ As the programme moves forward, he holds ’change control meetings’, currently every week, to ensure that ’we understand where we are in relation to the target cost’; the meetings also allow the different parties ’to catch up on a host of issues’. Gillespie adds that ’the target cost of £525m for both phases ’is adjusted year-on-year - we do not have a contract to deliver the whole project for that number, but there is a mechanism to give Railtrack and Jarvis a 50:50 share of any pain or gain.’

The track upgrading programme is no longer neatly divided between Phases 1 and 2. Gillespie says ’we have smoothed the programme so that we are carrying out Phase 1 and Phase 2 work now. If there is a problem with the amount of work to be carried out in a given possession, we will sacrifice the Phase 2 works first because we have mission-critical work for May 2002.’ He also affirms that the physical tolerances for 200 or 225 km/h are identical, so that no extra work on the track is needed for Phase 2 - it is the signalling and OLE that need to be altered for the higher speed. So ’in Phase 2 we will address the capacity issues and works north of Manchester.’

Business structure

Gillespie’s organisation is designed to provide smooth interfaces between all the parties involved (p726). These include several Railtrack zones, English Welsh & Scottish Railway and Freightliner who provide materials and works trains, and numerous suppliers of logistics and services.

Depots at Willesden, Forders (near Bedford) and Crewe, together with a mobile team of supervisors, form the Supply Chain Operating Centre which liaises closely with the Production teams to ensure that works trains are crewed and in the right places in the right times. Gillespie is proud that the P811S High Output Track Relaying Train - supplied by Harsco Track Technologies (formerly Fairmont Tamper) of Columbia, South Carolina, - and stabled in Crewe, ’arrives within minutes’ of its scheduled time at worksites towards the south of the route. A separate Train Operations Centre in York acts as a single point of contact for the Rail-track zones and other external parties.

Within the Design & Technical group that put together the engineering design for the relaying work is a team from Owen Williams Railways.

An Enabling Works team has been put in place to ensure all materials are available, including rail, sleeper and ballast, which are provided by Railtrack as ’free issue’. The EW group also has responsibility for disconnecting and reconnecting track, signalling and OLE before and after possessions, although some of this work has recently been subcontracted. It takes charge of access arrangements and helps to ensure worksites are ready for action and tidied up afterwards.

Of particular interest is the Calibre team, a tool put in place in June 2000 to ensure that the programme of work tallies with what is actually achieved. Gillespie says that reports have been compiled from observations at around 60 worksites, and these are currently being analysed. The idea ’is to flush out holes in the process and make the whole thing more efficient’. The first results will be available towards the end of this month.


Apart from the work in Scotland, which is managed by a project team that was already in place before the Alliance was established, production is split into separate High Output and Conventional teams, with the star of the HO group being the TRT. At one stage this was to have been joined by a second relaying train from a European supplier, but Gillespie says this is no longer needed. The intention is for about 40 to 50% of the work to be done at HO sites, but the proportion is only 28% at the moment.

There are two complete TRT teams, so that the machine can be kept working through long possessions at weekends. Each consists of staff from Harsco and Jarvis, although the Harsco staff are returning to the USA as local crews become more familiar with the equipment. The machine takes up the old rails and sleepers, levels the ballast, lays new sleepers and threads in new rail which is then clipped up. Tamping then allows the track to be returned to use at 100 km/h, and dynamic stabilising usually permits line speed within one week. Ballast cleaning can be done before or after the relaying, although Gillespie says it is preferable afterwards.

Questioned about the choice of machine, Gillespie comments that the intention was to have a simple design that was ’almost agricultural’ because of the need for reliability, ’which makes it that much more efficient’.

Gillespie says that the TRT needs a minimum 8h possession, the working time between cut-in and cut-out being less than 2h. It is used on three nights a week, achieving an average output of 300m. ’If a fourth night is possible, we go for that as well.’ At weekends, ’output is significantly higher, with over 1·6 km achieved on the weekend of July 22 to 23.’ The aim is to step this up to reach around 2400m.

There was a clear intention for the TRT to be able to operate without infringing the loading gauge on adjacent tracks. Gillespie says that ’this issue is still being resolved’, but ’in any case men will be walking on one side of the machine to monitor progress’, so at least one extra track has to be made available.

The Alliance has pressed the High Output Ballast Cleaner built by Kershaw for British Rail in 1991 into service, and this machine ’is delivering an efficiency that has never been heard of before.’ Gillespie suggests that ’it has much more dedicated staff in terms of maintenance’, and that more preventative maintenance is done ’so that it is showing itself to be far more efficient than in the past.’ Target output for the HOBC is 300m in a 7h shift mid-week, with 1000m being achieved in a weekend possessions. The HOBC will have finished its programme by May 2001, its place being taken by two medium-output ballast cleaners due to be delivered shortly from Plasser & Theurer. Around 3 million tonnes of ballast are being cleaned or replaced.

The HO teams also have a fleet of tampers, and several are being refurbished so that they can work at maximum output in the months to come. Some 28 items of plant are ’ring-fenced to ensure availability does not become an issue.’

Conventional work is handled from depots and offices located along the route at Euston, Watford, Bilton (to be set up in May 2001), Forders, Rugby, Nuneaton, Crewe, Carnforth and Shettleston. Much agency labour is sourced through Vital Resources, and the aim is to keep teams of labour together as far as possible.

Commenting on the way that work has gone so far under the alliance concept, Gillespie says ’it is a huge step-change in the way we run a business inside an even bigger business. We haven’t got it right yet, but we’ve gone a long way towards getting it right.’ He is particularly pleased that within the Alliance ’Railtrack is paying on the button’. n

WCRM key facts

2671 track-km used by 12 passenger and freight operating companies

38 tunnels

10244 bridges, spans and culverts

118 level crossings

Scope of Track Alliance work:

Replace or clean 3 million tonnes of ballast

Renew 1·2 million sleepers of various types with G44 sleepers

Replace 2639 km of rail with CEN60

WCRM contractor groupings

The WCRM work is divided among a number of alliance partnerships. In each group infrastructure owner Railtrack has joined with the contractors as an equal partner.

Euston Alliance: Railtrack, Balfour Beatty, Westinghouse Signals

South Manchester Alliance: Railtrack, Ansaldo (CSEE), AMEC Spie

North Midlands Alliance: Railtrack, Carillion, WS Atkins Rail

WCRM Track Alliance: Railtrack, Jarvis

OLE & Distribution Alliance: Railtrack, GTRM, WS Atkins, Balfour Beatty

TCS Alliance: Railtrack, Alstom, Ansaldo (US&S)

125 Linespeed Resignalling Alliance: GTRM, WS Atkins, Amey Rail, Jarvis, Railtrack

TABLE: Table I. Current and planned journey times

2000 2002 2005

London - Birmingham New St 1h 37min 1h 20min 1h 10min

London - Manchester 2h 30min 2h 00min 1h 50min

London - Liverpool 2h 36min 2h 00min 1h 50min

London - Glasgow 4h 56min 4h 05min 3h 55min

CAPTION: Countdown to Phase 1. WCRM Project Director Doug Gillespie (right) maintains a countdown calendar in his Birmingham office. At nearby Proof House Junction track has been relaid and new catenary and signalling installed

CAPTION: The 80m long TRT is formed of four vehicles. The fastener unit removes old rail fastenings and houses the plant for hydraulic, pneumatic and electrical power. The handling unit has two sleeper conveying systems for moving the old and new sleepers into position. The beam wagon picks up the old sleepers, levels the ballast and lays new sleepers (right) before new rails are drawn in. These will in due course be heated to ensure they are stress free before placing on the seats of the new sleepers. The fourth vehicle is the clipping wagon where fasteners are secured within the frame of the unit; the ballast shoulder is shifted back on to the sleeper ends by a plough at the rear. Sleeper carrying wagons (top) precede the rest of the machine, with the sleepers lifted on moving gantries to and from the machine’s working area

CAPTION: Work at Proof House, east of Birmingham New Street, includes four bridge rebuilds, 15 km of plain line renewal, 20 new OLE structures, 18 switch and crossing replacements, 36 new signal structures, two SSIs, and 3 500 new sleepers

CAPTION: As part of WCRM, Railtrack’s Scotland zone has realigned a short section of the WCML near Carstairs to ease a curve, and replaced the 100-year old Clyde viaduct at Lamington with a new structure. Hydratight’s Hevilift sliding technology was used to position the 100m long 2500 tonne concrete viaduct. The two old single-track steel decks were removed using 32 sychronised jacks on lifting sledges running on a stainless-steel track. The new viaduct was then moved into position using the same track and five pulling rams, being positioned in less than 5h complete with ballast and track