An expert eye on Javelin’s future

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Lisa Goodman, senior development manager at Network Rail, has just treated us to the most detailed description yet of the proposed Javelin upgrade of the Marshlink line. She presented those attending the annual meeting of the MarshLink Action Group on Friday March 20 with the options that rail experts are considering, the costs, the pitfalls and the business case.

She began with the feature that attracts commuters: faster trains. “We are looking at a journey time from Hastings of 65 to 70 minutes into St Pancras and 55 minutes from Rye,” she said. “In order to do this we need to do quite a lot of infrastructure improvements over a wide area, as you can imagine. Currently in CP5 [the current Network Rail five-year control period of 2014-19] line speed improvements are taking place on the line for you and they are primarily focused around the Ore area, a modest rise from 40 to 60mph. In order to get the journey times down to what we know you would like, we are working on getting the journey times down much more substantially on a much larger section of route, so we are looking to improve the speed down from Ashford up to 90mph.

“That potentially has quite a lot of implications; obviously we need to look at the track quality. It is over a marshy area and that, in itself, could cause problems. In the early what we call GRIP [governance for railway investment projects] stages we need to do a lot of ground assessment to see how viable they are. Alongside doing the line speed improvement one of the biggest things we need to do is electrification of the Marshlink line.”

Goodman said Network Rail’s infrastructure projects (IP) team had been asked to look at two possible electrification routes for this “and that would be both DC electrification – third rail – or AC overhead line equipment”.

She went on: “The links that we would make from the High Speed line which obviously runs on overheads, and your current services at the Ore end and at Ashford, are third rail electrification. We are bearing in mind that it is on a marsh and very windy, so we will be doing a requoting exercise from our previous case. We will ask for slightly more complex overhead line equipment that would allow you to have the robustness of service, so that overhead lines are not dropping down on you!

“So there are particular cantilevers etc that we can put in place and deeper foundations that, hopefully, would mean that you suffered less from the wind if the AC route was the one chosen to take forward. Electrification again brings in complexity into the railway system on the Marsh Link line that isn’t currently there, and we would need to look at immunisation of the signalling system around Rye, that has recently been replaced, but obviously there wasn’t a view at that time for electrification – quite a complex but necessary procedure – and also we would need feeder grid points somewhere along the lines for you.

“With DC electrification there would just be little feeder stations. With AC we would need a big transmitter somewhere along the line which might have a reasonable cost associated with it. There is also the fact that we will need to amend structures for you down the line, both to make sure that bridge structures and things don’t interfere with any electrification equipment and that everything is safe. And also, if  we were to go ahead with overhead lines, we would need to make sure that all the structures along the line had the appropriate clearances. Some of our solutions to get the appropriate clearances might not be appropriate in this area of the country. Some of them would involve digging down a track, which in marshy environment increases your flood risk and isn’t something that we could do necessarily, so it might mean replacement of structures.”

The critical connection

The difficult bit, said Goodman, and the most critical, is connecting to the High Speed line: “In order to do that we have to reconfigure Ashford station.” The initial proposal put forward, she said, was to make this amendment on the London side of Ashford: “It would involve the addition of four new switch and crossing units, changes to the signal interlocking as well as overhead line equipment into platform 2.

“IP have done a lot of good work for us on this. Due to the bend in the lines at this particular location, it is going to be a particularly expensive and complex solution unfortunately.” That solution could also, potentially, mean a reduction in the speed of the HS1 services, which would have wider implications.

“Because of this we have looked at a different proposal – to link the Marshlink line to HS1 at the country end of Ashford via Ashford D junction. Instead of utilising platform 2 we would ask to utilise platform 3 at Ashford station, which is one of the international platforms. Now we have not done any communication with wider stakeholders here, we are talking of early feasibility stages, but the idea would be to segregate domestic and international passengers through the construction of a wall between platforms 3 and 4. The timetables for the international services could run off a single platform.”

The line coming out of Ashford D junction is a lot straighter, said Goodman. “The same number of switch and crossing units are required but they are much more standard and therefore have a lower price tag attached and there is also less need to do electrification work because platform 3 already has both overhead and third rail electrification means.”

Moving on, she turned her attention to Appledore: “As you are probably aware there is a low-speed crossover at Appledore, which means current services have to slow down quite substantially. Obviously in order to get our journey-time benefit we need to keep the speed fast.” To do that we would “need some additional points, renew all the existing S&Cs in the area, and there are also again signalling changes”. The S&C costs would be “particularly expensive because it is a bit more customised than your standard”, but it would allow for 60-90mph speeds through the Appledore region. “So there are substantial gains to be had.”

The so-called “Rye loop” would need changes, too – to allow trains to pass each other without having to come to a stand. “To do this we are looking at another half mile of track, extending out from Rye. That is obviously going to trigger works because of the Ferry Road crossings and the road in the area, which we would need to realign, and additional signalling work as you can imagine – quite a few of those.

“Alternatively, we are also considering a double track solution. Instead of going from Rye down to Winchelsea, we are looking at double-tracking the stretch between Appledore and Rye. Potentially one would say that is a much more costly solution because it is six miles of track, but actually it could be cheaper because of the complexity of the S&C units” that would otherwise be needed. “So we are looking at that as well to try to keep the business case valid for you.”

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Changes to level crossings

Level crossings also have to be looked at, she said. “You have 46 level crossings of some description or other: worker crossings, footpath crossings, and nine road crossings on the stretch between Ashford and Hastings. That is a substantial number to deal with. When we do any works that trigger an increased risk, such as line speed improvements, increased traffic flow, we have to do assessments on all of those level crossings.”

Work on this, so far, had included assessing what the alternative would be to close, reroute or divert the crossings. “We are not looking to take away access from you. Where we are looking to close a crossing there has to be an acceptable alternative route for people to use, but we must consider at all times the safety of people using those crossings.” However, “to allow a line speed increase might result in closure of some of those level crossings”.

It might be cheaper in some places, she said, to put road bridges in, rather than replace current half-barriers with full automatic “because signalling changes for full barriers are quite costly”. There are now, she added, some “nice easy-build road bridges that can be put in, in a standard maintenance time, rather than requiring a blockade of the line”.

Revised estimates, reflecting all these areas, will be ready in May 2015, said Goodman. She stressed that the business case from a Network Rail perspective “can only consider the rail user benefit”, such as electrification, lower rolling stock costs and journey time for passengers. Network Rail could not take into account “the potential regeneration case, because we don’t have control of that”. But, she added: “We can make reference to work that is being done by others within our documentation in order to build the case.”

The revised business case and “all the work I have just discussed will appear in our Kent Route Study, our Kent long-term planning process”. This is due for publication in February next year.

“Network Rail does not control,” she added, “how money is invested in the rail industry. That is all in the hands of the Department for Transport and it is for them to decide how and where we will be allocated funds to improve things such as the Marshlink line. So we will certainly include this for you as part of our long-term planning process and with a recommendation most likely for [the next control period] 2019 through to 2024. However, it is not in our hands to grant this for you and you will be in the hands of the DfT and the government departments in order to decide how the money is spent.”

See also
Southern Rail excuses fall flat, a report by Stuart Harland, and
‘You must lobby’ for rail upgrade

Photos: Nick Taylor