Airdale-Bathgate project nears completion

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What a difference two years makes! As the Airdrie-Bathgate project nears completion, it has transformed the landscape along its route. Before starting its contract to lay track and install the overhead line equipment back in October 2008, Balfour Beatty Rail sponsored the last mass ride on the Airdrie-Bathgate cycle path. Two years later, this is now an operational railway.

On 9th November, Network Rail ran its New Measurement Train (NMT) over the line for the first time. This converted HST runs over 250,000 miles of infrastructure every year to record ten separate asset data streams, most of which can be collected at 125 mph. It does this by means of the Laserail 3000 inertial geometry system supplied by Mermec Group of the USA which uses laser pods above each rail and an inertia pack. This system is used worldwide, including a SNCF TGV track recording train operating at speeds up to 217mph. Perhaps unsurprisingly, its more sedate traverse of the Airdrie-Bathgate line found track parameters to be within tolerance, confirming positive feedback from drivers.

But the NMT’s visit also served as a press event hosted by Ron McAulay, Network Rail’s Director of Scotland and Hugh Wark, Senior Project Manager. Ron explained that Network Rail’s first involvement with the project came in 2004 and advised that “at the time we were given the deadline of December 2010 and, soon afterwards, given the budget figure.”

During the run, Hugh pointed out features of particular interest. He explained that the project met its objectives because “the team worked extremely well together. The contracting strategy set out at an early stage was generally followed and all design and engineering approvals were in house.” As the project reopened an old railway, bridges and civil works had been assessed from a maintenance perspective to develop pragmatic design solutions. Network Rail also provided the project with the support and expertise it needed to develop a robust plan and deal with problems. These included poor ground conditions, the late relocation of Caldercruix Station due to contaminated ground and exceptionally poor weather. Hugh felt that “this is a good way of managing a railway project which we’ve proved by delivering this on time.”

A model project

Design integration was a key element in its success. Outline design was by Jacobs who determined the limits of deviation within which the project had to be constructed for the Bill submitted to the Scottish Parliament in 2006. Detailed civils and track design was by Scott Wilson with Balfour Beatty Rail and Westinghouse Rail Systems (now Invensys Rail) being respectively responsible for OLE and signal design.

Willie McBride, Senior Project Engineer, explained that all design was to a common grid with design information disseminated to all concerned by Projectwise, an engineering management tool developed by Bentley Systems. Monthly design integration meetings were held which updated the common set of integrated engineering layout plans as required.

In addition, a virtual three-dimensional model of the route was produced by Gioconda – a company that specialises in 3D tools for the rail industry. This was particularly useful in ensuring signal sighting was not obscured by OLE and civils design. The model was taken further during the later design phases and used to compile driver learning tools. Previously these DVDs were produced in standard definition but, this time, Gioconda supplied ScotRail’s training centre with the UK’s first full-HD Blu-ray version. This benefited training by providing much more picture detail for larger displays, ensuring text and overlays for signage such as signal numbers were better defined.

The new railway does not yet carry passenger services but it is now part of the operational railway so the project team have the novel experience of applying for possessions for the line they have just built. It was commissioned on 18th October, with the final energisation of the OLE between Airdrie and the Bathgate feeder station taking place on 25th October. Driver training then started over the new line using Class 334 EMUs transferred from Ayrshire. The stage is now almost set for the start of passenger services on 12th December.

These are not only dependent on project completion but require commissioning of 38 new Class 380 EMUs and associated platform extensions on the Ayrshire lines to release the Class 334s. With the introduction and transfer of these units, ScotRail has initiated a major training programme for both traction conversion and route learning, covering all its drivers on the Ayrshire and Airdrie-Bathgate routes. Due to Class 380 commissioning problems, the initial service will be half-hourly, doubling to every 15 minutes from next spring.

Overview by numbers

The complete project consisted of the reopened line and double-tracking of the Bathgate and Drumgelloch branches, together with bridge work to provide electrification clearance. A few statistics help to quantify the scale of each part of the project –

Why did the project build new roads? In part, this was due to an early decision to eliminate the old railway’s level crossings which required diversionary roads and new bridges. The high project workload associated with utilities and consents is also apparent. Early engagement with the utilities companies and use of old railway wayleaves avoided delay and minimised costs. For example, £6 million was saved when the National Grid accepted the project team’s risk assessment demonstrating that replacement of the 70 bar North Sea gas pipelines, installed beneath the railway when it was previously operational, was unnecessary. Consents had to be managed in accordance with the project timescale. At times this proved challenging and required significant engineering input, particularly in respect of Road Construction Consents.

A novel feature was the use of TroTred, a combined cable route and safe walkway produced by Trojan Services Ltd. This provides a 700mm walking surface with a large cable trough beneath. It is designed to be tamper-proof, has high impact resistance and complies with HSE manual handling guidelines, weighing less than a quarter of its concrete equivalent. It was awarded the Network Rail Partnership Award for Innovation in 2010.

Airdrie-Bathgate project driver training screen
A virtual 3D model has proved useful during the design phases and for driver training

Nearly done and dusted

With the countdown clock ticking ever-louder, remaining works include finishing touches to the stations as well as completion of the feeder station, landscaping and the cycle path. The four new stations at Drumgelloch, Caldercruix, Blackridge and Armadale are being constructed by Carillion as part of its contract for all civil works on the new route. They are substantially ready with outstanding jobs being platform resurfacing, car parks and approach roads.

Initially the newly electrified railway was fed from both ends to power the Class 334s for driver training. The passenger service however requires power from the new facility that Balfour Beatty Rail has provided to the west of Bathgate. This is a 2 x 18MVA feeder station with two 25kV disconnectors and was due to be commissioned before the end of November. Sectioning of the supply is fulfilled by track section cabins at Raiziehill and Drumgelloch.

Changing scenery

Although the bare earth and fresh concrete of the new railway is less picturesque than the cycle path it replaced, landscaping will soon blend the line into its setting, just like the rest of the network. With Carillion’s civil works complete, landscaping is being undertaken in accordance with the project’s Landscape and Habitat Management Plan (LHMP). This was part of Scott Wilson’s environmental input to the civils design and agreed with stakeholders including West Lothian and North Lanarkshire councils, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage.

Beyond this, the LHMP specifies project design environmental requirements including biodiversity measures to mitigate the impact of the new rail corridor on wildlife and the requirement for noise barriers. During the parliamentary hearings, noise was a significant concern. To address this, a virtual model of the railway was used to predict noise levels, with the requirement for barriers determined through a comparison with existing levels at each location. This process demonstrated that the noise impact was less than had been feared with only 700 metres of barrier needed along the route. This work was undertaken by specialist consultants Hamilton & McGregor, part of Faber Maunsell, now an AECOM company.

The cycle path on the trackbed of the old railway opened in the mid-Eighties and formed part of National Cycle Route 75. It was closed at the end of 2008 for construction of the line. A 22km replacement path is being built at a cost of £7 million and will open next spring. This includes new bridges over the railway at Tippet Hill in Bathgate and the Barbauchlaw Burn in Blackridge, with infill work at Hillend Loch to provide space for both the railway and the path.

Scotland shows the way

Airdrie-Bathgate is the UK’s longest new conventional passenger line for over 100 years. It therefore had to tackle challenges that would be unfamiliar to other railway projects. One such was external stakeholder management, particularly in respect to land acquisition and the handling of consents, both of which could have impacted on the project programme. Delivering a major new railway on time and within budget is therefore a significant achievement.

During the NMT’s run over the line, Hugh Wark observed that “3½ years after Parliamentary approval we actually have the new railway open. We’re immensely proud of this; it’s a huge achievement in anyone’s book.” Given the scale, complexity and unique nature of the project, it is difficult to disagree.

Airdrie-Bathgate train works
Final adjustments are made to the OLE

It’s fitting that the new service on the Airdrie-Bathgate line should be launched 50 years after Glasgow’s first electric service – the 50-route-mile north Clyde – was introduced on 5th November 1960. This is commemorated by an exhibition, sponsored by Network Rail, in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove museum and shows how it has since expanded to 202 route miles, making it the UK’s largest 25kV electrified suburban network. With its extension to Edinburgh providing through trains from Helensburgh, Airdrie-Bathgate appends a further 32 miles. And by 2016, the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme will add 92 more. Scotland’s railway landscape is certainly changing.

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