Work has begun on the £850 million redevelopment of the Reading station area. Over a ten-day period this Christmas, the workforce completed the first stage of their project, working from Christmas Eve until 4th January. The station itself was closed to trains for six days.

Major bottleneck

Reading has been a major bottleneck on the Great Western Main Line (GWML) for many years. It is estimated that more than 14 million people pass through every year and that 700 trains use the station daily. The expectation is that both these numbers will increase considerably and, given that there is only one Up and one Down main line through platform, significant improvements need to be made quickly.

To compound the problem, freight traffic from the Port of Southampton is likely to increase appreciably due to the anticipated introduction of new, larger containers. The majority of this will need to cross the GWML at Reading as it heads to more northerly destinations.

The overall scheme will take five years to complete. The southern platforms to Waterloo will be extended and an extra platform constructed. Four new northern platforms are also going to be built together with a passenger transfer deck and entrance to the north and south sides of the station, providing much improved access to all the platforms.

Reducing congestion

A grade-separated junction west of the station will benefit from a flyover, removing the need for freight trains to cross the main lines – this will enhance capacity and dramatically reduce congestion. In addition, a new chord will be laid to further increase the volume of freight that can be handled.

The existing train care depot situated in the triangle to the west of the station will have to be demolished to accommodate the new layout. The intention is to build a new facility at the north-west side of the railway. All this work, along with its significant associated signalling and communications, is planned for completion by 2016. The finished layout will provide two Up and two Down main line platforms, additional relief line platforms, as well as minimising conflicting movements.

Relocating signalling control

So that’s the plan. The challenge that Network Rail’s project team is engaged in at present is described as ‘key output Stage Zero’. There are four more to come but Zero focuses on the complete transfer of the Sixties’ life-expired signalling system from Reading Power Signal Box to the state-of-the-art Thames Valley Signalling Centre (TVSC), completed in 2009 at Didcot. That work is well advanced as we lead up to Christmas.

Network Rail’s senior project manager for the signalling work is Harry Mercer. Harry and his team of engineers have been quietly preparing the way, working around the clock since last April. This is a key part of the project – the total value of the signalling enabling work is around £85 million. The principal contractor is Invensys. Delta Rail has designed the control centre equipment and Siemens the operational communications.

Outlying areas to the west of Reading Station – from Cholsey to Goring on the GWML and Woodborough to Theale on the Berks & Hants route – are already controlled from the TVSC. Work to transfer control of the section from Goring, through Reading to Ruscombe – currently signalled from Reading PSB – is planned to take place during the Christmas closedown. Unlike civils work which is usually very visible, there are few signs of the work that has taken place so far. As Harry points out, the travelling public will not see any change after Christmas and even train drivers will only notice a difference if they need to talk to the new signalling centre.

Reading station removal of track panel
Removal of a track panel from Caversham Road bridge

Safety approval reviews

However, this is highly skilled, precision work with no room for error. As already stated, the existing signalling equipment is life-expired and very fragile. At each critical stage of the enabling works, rigorous safety acceptance and approval reviews are undertaken and recorded before the next stage can start. So far, Harry is pleased that everything is going to plan and preparations for the Christmas period are well underway and to programme.

One place where there is clear evidence of the signalling work is, ironically, on a civil engineering site. In September, three steel spans taking the relief lines over the very busy Caversham Road were removed by telescopic crane. One of them also carried signalling cables which are now suspended high across the roadway, forming two temporary tubular suspension bridges. In a demonstration of coordinated thinking and good planning, the cables will be rendered redundant before the single replacement bridge deck is moved into position as new cables will first be installed well away from the site.

Orthotropic bridge deck

Work is now well underway to complete the deck’s construction alongside Caversham Road, around 50 metres from its intended destination. Kevin Brown, Network Rail’s civils programme manager, is in overall control of this. Bam Nuttall has been appointed as principal contractor responsible for the design and construction of the bridge. In turn, Gifford Consultants has been contracted to design the orthotropic steel deck which will be fabricated in 3m sections by Watson Steel Structures  before being transported to site.

An important consideration for the design of the bridge deck was the need to maximise clearances for the wide variety of vehicle types that use this route into and out of Reading. An orthotropic deck typically comprises a structural steel deck plate stiffened either longitudinally or transversely, or both. The stiffening elements can serve several functions simultaneously. They enhance the bending resistance of the plate, allowing it to carry local wheel loads and distribute them to the main girders. They also add to the total cross-sectional area of steel in the plate which can increase its contribution to the overall bending capacity of the deck. The deck plate can act as a top flange as in a box or I-beam girder.

Wheeled into place

The plan is to transfer the span, ballast walls and cill beams as one, using the now very popular Self Propelled Modular Transporter (SPMT) equipment to be supplied by Abnormal Load Engineering (ALE). The total weight of the deck, ballast and kentledge – used to help balance the deck evenly – is estimated at 1,000 tonnes. Although the route is short, it is not quite straight and there will be some delicate manoeuvres required on site.

The existing abutments still need to be lowered to their correct level. The good news is that they are in good condition. Piling and casting new extensions to them is now well advanced, as is the preparatory work for the offline deck construction. Everything should be ready three weeks before Christmas, providing adequate time to resolve any last minute hitches. At least the team will not have to worry about the prospect of high winds, always a concern when using mobile cranes for such lifts.

Reading station site compound
The busy scene in the site compound, formerly a Post Office

Relocating the fire brigade

Buildings on the north side of the station will be demolished early next year so that two new island platforms can be built. The intention is to link the associated relief lines with the south-side Waterloo route via a disused underpass at the east end of the station. Existing track and sidings have already been removed.

In preparation for this work and the western element of the Crossrail project, Network Rail has managed to acquire some excellent office accommodation, formally a Post Office depot. It is ideally located alongside Caversham Road and the bridge construction site. There is a generous amount of open space to prepare the new deck and cast any additional concrete units. It has also enabled Network Rail to overcome what could have been a significant problem because Reading fire brigade’s main depot is located alongside the site and the proposed road closure would severely restrict its access into the city centre. Kevin explained that because of the very cooperative approach taken by the brigade, a fully equipped temporary location has been provided within the old Post Office complex.

With that sorted, everything appears to be in order and all possible eventualities considered. This suggests a promising outcome to the Christmas closedown. Of course, the travelling public will notice very few changes when they return to work in the New Year. They will only become apparent when Network Rail starts to work through from Stage One – to be finalised in 2012 – to Stage Four, for completion in 2016. However, if it wasn’t for the very hard work that Kevin, Harry and their respective teams and suppliers are doing now and over Christmas, these opportunities would never emerge.


  1. It would be helpfull if you had a plan of how the completed track and platforms at Reading will look on your web site

    • We have added an aerial view of what the completed track will look like. If you click on the link in the first sentence an image will pop up. Thankyou.


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