Engineers have saved £70m of taxpayers’ money, reduced disruption and sped-up construction of East West Rail (EWR) by using creative new building techniques to build a new railway viaduct over the West Coast main line at Bletchley.
The innovative methods have cut costs for the public purse and reduced disruption for local communities by avoiding railway closures on one of Europe’s busiest mixed-use passenger and freight railway routes, the West Coast main line. This work has accelerated construction on this section of EWR by six months, bringing direct services connecting Oxford and Bletchley/Milton Keynes one step closer.
Instead of replacing the old flyover like-for-like – which would involve building five supporting columns in between the West Coast main line’s tracks – EWR project engineers have used advanced construction methods to build a protective ‘box structure’ that acts like a rectangular railway tunnel, removing the need for separate supporting columns.
This technique keeps trains and passengers on the West Coast main line moving safely while the workforce operates above, reducing disruption for local communities and passengers and accelerating construction of EWR between Oxford and Bletchley, all while saving £70 million.
Simon Blanchflower CBE, CEO of the East West Railway Company (EWR Co), said: “When we were established in 2018, we set out to build a new railway that minimises disruption, provides value for taxpayers and accelerates delivery. The construction of the new flyover at Bletchley is an example of how we’re striving to meet these ambitions and bring communities from Oxford to Cambridge ever closer to a new, sustainable public transport link across the region.”
Construction of the section of EWR between Bicester and Bletchley is being carried out by engineers from the East West Rail Alliance.
Mark Cuzner, East West Rail Alliance project director, said: “By working smarter we’ve been able to speed-up the project by around six months. At the start of the project, we built a protective wall next to the West Coast main line so we could safely build the box structure during the day when the railway is open, instead of working piecemeal at night-time when the railway is closed.
“Most of the components for both the box structure, and the flyover, arrived pre-built and were simply assembled on site, like a model kit or set of Duplo bricks. The simplicity of construction meant we could safely reduce the workforce onsite by 60%, cut the previously-forecast cost by £70m and get the job done six months quicker than planned.”
Key benefits that have been generated include:
- £70m saved by reducing the need to close the railway
- Modern methods of construction to speed-up construction by six months
- 70% of components arrived pre-built and were simply assembled on site
- Simplicity of construction meant onsite workforce could be reduced by 60%
- New flyover will last 120 years (previous one lasted only 60 years)
Over the coming months, engineers will start laying track over the new box structure on the line between Bicester and Bletchley, which is being built to last 120 years. The new structure replaces a 1960s-built concrete railway flyover which was not suitable to carry the new EWR services. The huge demolition project on the old structure took place last year and involved some of the UK's largest cranes.
For more information on the section of EWR between Bicester and Bletchley, visit: https://eastwestrail.co.uk/the-project/bicester-to-bletchley
About the East West Rail project
East West Rail intends to create a new direct connection between Oxford and Cambridge. Serving communities across the area, it intends to bring faster journey times and lower transport costs as well as ease pressure on local roads.
East West Rail is planned to be delivered in three Connection Stages:
- Connection Stage One: Oxford to Bletchley and Milton Keynes
- Connection Stage Two: Oxford to Bedford
- Connection Stage Three: Oxford to Cambridge
Network Rail was responsible for developing the first part of the East West Rail, connecting Oxford with Bicester, and is a partner in a construction alliance to deliver Connection Stage 1 of the project, where East West Railway Company (EWR Co) is acting as the Department for Transport’s sponsor.
EWR Co is now developing the route to enable services to run to Cambridge via Bedford and will be seeking statutory powers under the Planning Act 2008, following a period of extensive consultation.
About East West Railway Company
East West Railway Company (EWR Co) was set up by the Secretary of State for Transport in 2018 to develop East West Rail, a railway with customers and communities at its core.
We have a mission to innovate and challenge the status-quo in the rail and construction industries, leading to a more efficient and cost-effective project delivery, and a great experience for passengers and the communities we serve.
Our distinctive outlook and commitment to doing the right thing for our customers and local communities runs through everything we do and every decision we make.
About the flyover at Bletchley
- Bletchley flyover’ was built in the early 1960s and allows trains travelling from West to East to cross over the West Coast main line. As part of East West Rail the flyover is being rebuilt to modern day standards making sure the structure can accommodate trains for another 120 years. It is an essential part of the project which will see the first direct rail link between Oxford, Bicester, Bletchley and Milton Keynes in more than 50 years.
- Sections of the flyover were demolished in 2020 and the reconstruction of the new structure is now complete ready for the next stage of the project which will install the track and signalling.
- The work to dismantle and rebuild the structure over the West Coast Main Line, one of Europe’s busiest railway lines, was innovatively planned, designed and carried out with minimal disruption to passengers and train services.
- In total 15 of the existing flyover spans – each weighing circa 300 tonnes and 9 piers were removed, which involved mobilising three of Europe’s largest mobile cranes.
- The rebuild included an innovative design to install the flyovers support structure using 138 concrete shell abutments and culminated in the installation of 103, 40 tonne precast concrete beams required to construct the new box bridge over the WCML during the early May bank holiday in 2021. During this possession the project team also dismantled and reassembled the complex web of 25,000-volt overhead electric cables underneath the new flyover.
- Waste material from the dismantled spans and piers was recycled and reused in other infrastructure elements along the Bicester-Bletchley route, creating additional environmental and efficiency benefits.