The £200 million programme of work to upgrade the track and signalling at Derby Station is on time, says Network Rail’s Nick Sandham. The work, which is causing disruption to rail passengers travelling to, from and through Derby station is necessary and will bring benefits once completed.

The rail service to London, suspended for week 4 of the project, returned on the 20th August, the beginning of week 5, with an hourly service in each direction.

“The kit here is life-expired,” Nick says, “so it needs replacing anyway. It’s a good time to replace it and future-proof the station and surrounding areas for years to come. The work we’re doing now totally redesigns the track in and out of the station and will make journeys much smoother.”

The work, which began on 22nd July, is replacing track at both ends of the station together with signalling which has reached the end of its useful life. The current track layout is more than 50 years old. Passengers will benefit with smoother journeys and less disruption when the station fully reopens on Monday 8th October. Nick is confident that the work will be completed, and the station reopen, on time.

The most significant change is the new layout at the southern end of the station which has been a bottleneck for years with trains from the London and Birmingham directions forced to wait outside of Derby station as both routes passed over the same section of track.

“That was a big bottle neck, the London Road junction,” says Peter Luniw, Senior Project Engineer for Network Rail. “Lines 1 and 2 have been isolated from the London route, the only route into Platforms 1 and 2 is now from the Birmingham direction. Platforms 5 and 6 will be the London service platforms.”

The new layout will allow rail movements in and out of the station on both the London and Birmingham routes at the same time, not possible with the previous layout. Platform ends have been remodelled at both ends of the station to allow the tracks to be straightened, increasing the speed of trains into and out of the station.

“Freight traffic is predominantly from the Birmingham direction going north,” Peter added, “and these lines will now be rated for 40mph rather than 15mph before, making a big difference.

“The line to London was reopened on Monday 20th August as the track round to the south was completed in the early hours of Monday morning. We had a week of no running but at the moment the line is not signalled. We have a signalman releasing the London trains by flag.

“The new signalling gantry is now finished but there is some cable work to do and testing. That will become fully operational on 3rd September. The line to the north will remain blocked and Derby will becomes a terminus station until the work is completed in October.

“This (week 5) is probably the quietest week of the project. At the moment we have around 150 people on site per shift. Once the major track work starts again, this weekend, there will be around 200-250 per shift.”

Work continues around the station with civil construction on the platforms while rail engineers install and test new equipment for operating the points.

Another significant feature is the new island platform, on the Pride Park side of the station, which will be used for the East Midlands Trains service to the capital and Sheffield.

The short platform 5, previously used for the Nottingham shuttle service has been filled in and the former Platform 6 redesignated as Platform 5. The renamed Platforms 5 and 6 will be for the Sheffield and London trains once the station fully reopens in October but for now the hourly service is using the new Platform 7 in both directions. Once the work is complete this platform will be for maintenance crews only.

The new platform features a first class lounge, standard class waiting room, toilets and lift access to the platform from the overhead bridge. A new retail outlet is also planned.

The railway first came to Derby in 1839 when it was linked to Nottingham. Over the following years it grew and evolved, adding routes to Birmingham, Chesterfield and eventually London, along the current Midland Main Line route, by 1867.

During this time, the layout and size of the station changed to deal with the growing numbers of trains and passengers travelling to and through Derby as rail travel became more popular.

The fabric of the station was most recently upgraded in 2013, however, the current layout of the track has not significantly changed for 135 years. The signalling system has also remained unchanged for over 50 years.

Preparation for the project started 4 years ago with network Rail and the train operators discussing what would be the best solution to satisfy everyone’s requirements. Work began, on site, in January of this year with the construction of the new island Platform 6 and 7 ahead of the current blockade period.

The Derby Resignalling project involves:

– Replacing 17 kilometres of track

– Installing 79 sets of points

– Installing 55 new signals

– Installing 9 new gantries to support signals and cables

– Laying 150,000 tonnes of stone ballast

Dan Grover, Programme Manager for East Midlands Trains outlined the milestone dates for passengers over the next few weeks: “Matlock services will be suspended from 25th August, the last one runs this Friday. It’s not ideal but we will be offering a comprehensive rail replacement programme during that time. We are doubling the frequency of the rail replacement buses. Normally on weekdays and Saturdays it’s one train per hour, we will be running two buses an hour during this time and additional services for peak commuters from Duffield and Belper.

“From 3rd September all the trains running south will come back. Crewe trains are currently terminating at Uttoxeter and Tutbury. Cross Country services from Cardiff to Nottingham will be back. The Matlock to Newark Castle shuttle will be a Derby to Newark Castle shuttle, just the Matlock bit won’t be working. If you’re travelling to Nottingham, you will have your normal train service back from the 3rd September, Crewe will also have its normal service back.

“For those travelling to London, it will still be only one service an hour. At the moment those trains are coming in with an extended journey time because they’re having to run under special workings. On the new platform there is a signalman with a flag, but from 3rd September there will be normal working and they will be faster journey times compared to what we have at the moment but still just one train per hour. Cross Country’s long distance trains come back in so we’ll no longer be running rail replacement buses to the north to Chesterfield, it will be quicker to get those services to Chesterfield and Sheffield.”

Hayley Bull from Cross Country trains will be pleased to see services return to Derby and says passengers understood the problems operators have faced for many years.

“The removal of the bottle neck makes the infrastructure here much more reliable for passengers. We’ve been doing a lot of work jointly across the industry around Derby, trying to learn the public’s understanding of what the benefits will be. The public are very aware of the bottle neck that existed, although the rail industry was never sure of that. The removal of the bottle neck will make the operation so much more streamlined.”

Alongside track improvements the signalling is being fully upgraded around the station and beyond, all of which will be controlled from the East Midlands Control Centre in Derby. Once fully operational the Derby Power Signal Box, opened in the 1969, will no longer be in use.

“All signalling will be taken over by the East Midlands Control Centre,” Dan Grover explained “It is new signalling but a tried and tested system, its not expected to come with teething problems. Derby Box was set up back in the 60s so it has effectively reached it’s life expiry and an increased number of faults would have impacted on the journey experience. The layout was very complicated coming into Derby and there was a lot of potential for switches to go wrong. This is a much simpler layout which we hope will be more reliable.

“Longer term there is the potential for improved journey times because of line speed improvements through the station. The approach speed will be higher, and combined with many of the other improvements going on along the Midland Main Line – this is a £200m project but across the Midland Main Line the investment is around a billion pounds all together – they all come with small benefits which add up to a larger journey time improvement.”

The other improvement will come from work closer to the capital, such as the Midland Main Line electrification project to Corby. Closer to home work is taking place to improve the level crossing at Spondon, to the south, with object detection sensors for crossing safety, new striking point positions and highway realignment allowing trains to pass through the crossing at 100mph, an increase of 10mph.

Work is also taking place at Stenson Junction, 4 miles south of Derby on the Birmingham line and to the north at Ambergate.

“We understand it’s frustrating,” concluded Dan Grover “People want to travel by train, so we’ve tried to make the experience of travelling by rail replacement buses as pain-free as possible but we do apologise for the disruption that these works have had. The greatest benefit for passengers will be more reliable journeys in the future.”