Published 10th April 2013
The Easter holiday was exactly the opposite for Network Rail (NR) and their contractors at Reading, when over 2000 staff worked round the clock from late on Maundy Thursday continuously to the early hours of Easter Tuesday. They closed parts of the old cramped station and opened new platforms connected by a new passenger overbridge. The work would have taken around 20 weekends if carried out in the restricted engineering hours available when trains do not normally operate.
The Great Western Main Line (GWML) was blocked then for just under five days over the Easter weekend in the Reading station area to allow the station, track and signalling switchover to take place which can only be carried out when no trains are running. This was part of a two week intensive work programme which will result in passengers having a bigger and better equipped station when fully completed.
The station now has two new entrances, four new platforms and a new 110-metre long, 30-metre-wide passenger overbridge, with escalators and lifts providing step-free access to the new platforms. The station is used by 14m passengers annually and this number is expected to double in 15 years hence the need for the massive upgrade. The old station was cramped, working at capacity and had become complicated to move around in so the new one creates a major improvement for everybody.
NR’s Graham Denny said: "It's gone absolutely brilliantly. We opened some of the improvements over the weekend and we opened the new platforms ready to receive the first train when it came in at 0440am. The station was ‘ready to go’ for passengers, and the people we've had through already seem very pleased with the results."
The new platforms have been split into two operational sections, A and B. This allows trains to use different ends of the same platform at the same time thus increasing station capacity and operational flexibility.
The Easter works at Reading marked NR’s biggest ever commissioning of new track, signalling and infrastructure works at the same time on one project. Disruption to passengers was minimised to passengers by running some services into Waterloo rather than Paddington, and diverting others away from Reading via Banbury adding over an hour to the train journey but eliminating bus substitition services.
Work will continue over the summer to upgrade existing platforms and the station part of the project should be completed by February 2014. The station upgrade is only part of the Reading area investment programme and the complete track layout is also being revised. This will unblock the bottleneck on lines through Reading and the work is scheduled to be completed by 2015, a year ahead of the originally envisaged schedule.
Other works include the construction of a new train depot to the west and north of Reading station, construction of a viaduct (just commenced) linking the Basingstoke line which will provide more capacity, the widening of Cow Lane road bridge, new signalling to improve reliability and electrification ready for new state-of-the-art electric trains to operate.
Reading Borough Council is improving the areas outside the station’s two new entrances and Tony Page, lead councillor for regeneration, transport and planning, said: "When complete the council's new interchanges, to the north and the south of the station, will markedly enhance the environment in and around the station, providing much improved facilities for pedestrians, cyclists and bus and taxi passengers.
“The opening of the newly re-furbished subway underneath the station creates a route right into the town centre for people approaching the station from the northern side. For the tens of thousands of passengers who use Reading station every day, including a great many Reading residents of course, the new station will be a huge improvement.”
If you are thinking of travelling to the West Country in April and early May using First Great Western (FGW) services, read on! You will need to check train times as they will be diverted between Paddington, Devon and Cornwall during April and early May to allow NR to work on track and bridges between Taunton and Castle Cary. This takes place over a three week period between Mondays and Thursdays from Monday 15 April to Thursday 2 May inclusive.
Trains between Cornwall, Plymouth, Devon and Somerset and London will be diverted via Bristol and some will leave earlier than usual with journey times extended by around 30 minutes.
Friday and weekend services are not affected and FGW will operate a shuttle train service between Paddington and Castle Cary during the works. Replacement road coaches will operate between Taunton and Castle Cary when the line is blocked.
FGW have published a revised timetable and this can be personalised for specific trains and be downloaded through their “print your own timetable” service on www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk/printtimetable , while a full timetable guide is available at stations.