Affordable by Design: Market Harborough station revisited

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In spring 2019 (issue 179, June 2019), Rail Engineer reported on the considerable work that was being undertaken at Market Harborough on the Midland main line; not just on the route itself but also on the station and surrounding area. 

Since that visit, the site has changed significantly, with new tracks and platforms in place and in use, together with new extended car parking facilities. At the time of the May visit, the facilities were in interim use, quite a bit of the old station still giving service with purely construction contractor access to much of the new works.

Late in December of 2019, Rail Engineer was invited back to view the works in an advanced state and also to understand the collaborative processes that had enabled this strategically vital portion of work on the Midland main line to approach successful completion. Contractor Amey and lead designer Arup, working together with Network Rail, have made huge progress from that first pre-blockade visit.

The history of this location was covered in depth in the previous article, but it is worth having a brief review. The station had previously been a junction, with cross country lines to the east and the west. Following closure of those routes in the 1960s, the main line geometry remained more or less unchanged, with a configuration appropriate to the previous junction geometry arrangements.

The Midland main line is a route which has had mixed fortunes in terms of investment and speed improvements. The design and construction of the works at Market Harborough, which are led by Arup and Amey together with Network Rail, form part of an improvement programme to remove historic speed restrictions throughout the route. Market Harborough is one of the most significant of these with a linespeed of just 60mph – the aim is to increase this to 85mph (137km/h). 

However, the project scope is not just about linespeed, although an increase will reduce the section running time by about 30 seconds. It also includes a number of station improvements to provide passengers with better facilities.

Stakeholder interfaces

The reconstruction and new works were encouraged and supported through the backing of many stakeholders, which would benefit from the improvements in both passenger facilities and train performance. 

As indicated, the significant driver was the Midland main line performance improvements programme, but the station itself was also in need of significant enhancement to suit its growing patronage and status as an important commuter station. To illustrate the strategic nature and influence of the work, Sheffield City Region, D2N2 (Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire) and Leicestershire local enterprise partnerships offered support to the scheme. 

The local ‘Harborough Rail Users’ user group was closely involved and its statement at the end of the blockade and the opening of the new tracks was very positive, saying: “Market Harborough station reopened today, 3 June 2019, after a six-day closure, during which the new track alignment was completed. Though there were no official ceremonies, there was much local interest, plus pride on the part of Network Rail, their contractors and East Midlands Trains that the project had been completed on time and to a very high standard.” 

Cooperation with the user group also encouraged general conversations with the local residents, with Amey, Arup and Network Rail involved in keeping the local community updated as to the progress of the scheme. Even local schools were brought into the loop, with surplus cable drums passed to a local school for use as playground furniture!

Further support came from external funding including the government-sponsored ‘Access for All’ programme. Launched in 2006, this scheme addresses the issues faced by persons of reduced mobility, those with heavy luggage or with pushchairs, when using railway stations in Great Britain. The funding is used to create an obstacle free, accessible route from the station entrance to the platform. This generally includes providing lifts or ramps, as well as associated works and refurbishment along the route.

Additionally, the station improvement project received support from the passenger journey improvement project, another government scheme whereby £3.6 million funding aimed at transforming rail passenger travel.

Projects had to bid for this funding, which required them to develop and demonstrate technologies that would improve the passenger experience on UK railways, including:

  • A design for railway carriages that will increase peak hours seat numbers;
  • A carriage design that can quickly switch from carrying passengers to carrying goods;
  • Beacons that guide visually-impaired passengers through the station and to their seat;
  • Technology enabling disabled passengers to seek real-time assistance with their journey;
  • An augmented reality application that highlights a journey’s landmarks.

Market Harborough’s successful bid for funding was based on the innovative use of contrasting colours to help guide passengers with reduced vision through the station.

Putting passengers first

Due to the nature of the site, the Arup and Amey design for the new higher-speed track alignment was developed to be clear of the current operational railway, allowing a high percentage of the work to be undertaken off-track, during daylight hours and without the need for a lengthy blockade, keeping disruption of service and line closure to an absolute minimum. 

As the new alignment would occupy the majority of the previous existing car park area, this was relocated to the other side of the tracks. At the request of both Network Rail and the train operator, a larger parking area was planned that would have better access and could be built in two stages, one before the old car park was removed and a second enlargement once the construction ‘village’ was removed.

The new facility was also to include a ticketing and booking ‘hub’ close to the Up platform to avoid the need for motorists to cross to the booking office and come back for London-bound trains.

The realigned track was integrated into the route over a relatively short blockade at the end of May leading into June. Robust pre-planning, carefully staged designs and collaboration with Network Rail and the train operator allowed diversions and alternative arrangements to be facilitated that minimised disruption to passengers and freight. 

A number of temporary designs were produced to enable the railway to operate during construction before the final alignment was fully complete. Following that blockade, construction could continue with the new lines in use. 

Collaborative working

With the considerable volume of design and construction work involved, collaborative working was seen as being essential for a successful outcome. Amey acted as lead contractor and Arup as lead designer, with Atkins as part of the design supply chain. 

‘Early Contractor Involvement’ allowed Amey to work with Network Rail and take an upfront view of the shape of collaboration arrangements that would be required. East Midlands Trains (now East Midlands Railway) was an important partner in planning the works and the project team acknowledged the significant success of that integration. As well as station operations, the issue of signal sighting and general movement operations was reinforced by the close involvement of the train operator’s driver manager team.

Adoption of a collaborative working philosophy resulted in the design spreading beyond its initial geographic scope. To avoid the need for separate design works and scheme plans, the level crossing abandonment works at Little Bowden were interfaced with the main design package.

Affordable by Design

One guiding principal adopted by the project partners throughout the design process was ‘Affordable by Design’. Arup’s engineering manager Russell Gee and project manager Bob Gillespie explained that, whilst value management and value engineering had been applied to the scope of the project, the total design was developed to optimise ease of construction while staying within the envelope of available funding. 

Project sponsor Network Rail contributed to the project’s success through regular stakeholder meetings. Robust scheme development made a positive contribution, reinforced by an early GRIP Stage 3 (option selection) process.

As an example, the project goal was to reduce the section running time by 30 seconds. It had been assumed that, to do this, the linespeed would have to be increased to 110mph (180km/h). The pre-existing layout in Pony Paddock, where the former route from Northampton had joined the main line north of the station, certainly offered the opportunity to improve line speed in that section, but for significant cost in terms of earthworks and structural modification. Calculations showed that the result would not only exceed the scope of the project, giving almost 60 seconds of time saving, but would also exceed the budget.

The design was therefore scaled back to maximise the outputs within the available funding. Adopting a metric of £ per second saved, the track plan was revised, moving the modifications further south and away from the historical junction. Linespeed was set at 85mph (137km/h) and the required 30 second time was achieved for a cost 20 per cent below the original proposal.

Thus, through careful consideration of affordability during the design phase, the benefits were maximised within the funding envelope, prioritising the maximum savings in run time per pound of investment. 

Taking the ‘Affordable by Design’ concept a stage further, analysis showed the potential for further economy by careful consideration of track levels, minimising excavation. Moving the crossover provision to a site just north of the new platforms reduced complexity. Intelligent engineering application of design standards also provided considerable savings on station facilities, including the footbridge design.

Constructing the new platforms and other related infrastructure off-track, while trains continued to use the old alignment, resulted in an improved programme with good access and safer working, away from rail traffic. It also required the closure of only part of the original car park, further maintaining passenger facilities during construction.

Spent ballast was used to form a base for the new carpark, while material from the redundant goods shed and superseded platforms was crushed to form an onsite building material. This removed the need to transport waste to landfill while careful grading improved the general environment, with around 20,000 tonnes of material being reused on-site.

Project outcome

The Railways (Interoperability) Regulations 2011 set out the accessibility requirements for persons with reduced mobility travelling by rail. Train and station operators are required by their operating licences to establish and comply with a disabled people’s protection policy (DPPP) which must be approved by Office of Rail and Road (ORR). A DPPP sets out the arrangements and assistance that an operator will provide to protect the interests of older and disabled people using its services.

Measures taken at Market Harborough included lifts with doors on both sides that allow through passage, avoiding the need to turn mobility aids to exit at the landings. Those whose eyesight was challenged were assisted by the application of braille to handrails.

Mention of physical limitations also brings to mind the improved use of contrasting colours for platform equipment to aid people with visual impairment. This involved careful evaluation of both colours and the reflective capabilities of galvanizing, stainless steel and painted finishes on the platform infrastructure.

The combination of ‘affordable by design’ and collaboration led to an economical and effective construction programme, with changes taking place in the design phase rather than on site. 

Using state of the art techniques, Arup generated a virtual-reality, three-dimensional ‘fly through’ using headsets, helping stakeholders and local residents engage with and experience the design. In fact, the lift shaft and access arrangements were designed and developed as a result of this virtual-reality interaction. 

The result is a valuable addition to the resurgent Midland main line, set off by the retention of the listed station building and the sympathetic renovation of the listed covered way up to the platforms. The collaborative efforts of Amey and Arup, with the support of their supply chain partners, has delivered to Network Rail and East Midlands Railway an enhanced facility that can provide a quality service experience to passengers and freight. 

The decision to extend electrification north to Market Harborough will be welcome, with the station and layout designs allowing passive provision for the arrival of the wires and compliance to future electrification requirements built into the design. 

Thanks to Jon Wells and Bruce Abraham of Amey, Russell Gee and Bob Gillespie from Arup and the project team from Network Rail for their assistance in preparing this report.


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