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Engineering works over Easter, strikes and cost overruns on HS2 have dominated the headlines in the rail sector recently. But behind the latest news agendas, some major new rail construction projects have been moving out of the sidings which bode well for construction activity in the sector.

Image of rail construction in progress

Although new rail-related project starts have been weak recently, there are some significant new schemes coming down the line. These include further new work on the £5 billion East-West Rail project linking Oxford and Cambridge and investments under the government’s £96 billion Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands.

They also come against a potentially brighter outlook for workload prospects for civil engineering contractors; the March issue of the Glenigan Construction Review shows that the value of detailed planning approvals in the sector was up 367% in the three months to February compared to the previous three months.

Network Rail remains the civil engineering sector’s second largest client – after the Department of Transport – and was responsible for some 50 projects worth some £687 million in the year to February 2023.

‘Transformative’ growth plans

Having re-committed to ‘transformative growth plans’ for the railways in last October’s Autumn Statement, the Chancellor noted in his Spring Budget that in May the government will confirm the final route for East-West Rail - covering the key Bedford to Cambridge section. Up to £15 million will also be provided for local authorities along the route to take advantage of economic opportunities created by the new line.

Work has started on Phase 2 of East West Rail, the western section which is mainly on existing lines between Bedford and Oxford, Milton Keynes and Aylesbury Vale which is being delivered by the East West Rail Alliance, a joint venture involving Atkins, Laing O’Rourke, VolkerRail and Network Rail (Project ID: 16021036).

When the new route is confirmed, work on the Bedford to Cambridge leg of the new line – with work worth £1 billion including various improvements – could start next year and run for 48 months (Project ID: 20363700).

Meanwhile, the government has approved plans for a new £184 million Cambridge South Station on the new line and close to the city’s biomedical campus, where construction work is set to start this autumn (Project ID: 20269289).

Northern upgrades

Eighteen months ago, the government unveiled - with much fanfare - plans to invest £23 billion to deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail and the Transpennine Route Upgrade. Construction work on the schemes to improve rail connections across the North and the Midlands are now starting to materialise.

Bills have recently been called on one large element of the programme, the £3 billion electrification of the TransPennine Express line between Manchester to York via Leeds. Work on this huge project will involve electrifying rail line over some 122km of track, 8 tunnels, 15 viaducts, 25 stations and 270 bridges. Amey is the consulting civil engineer on the contract where work is due to start in late 2024 and run for 48 months (Project ID: 11380308).

Ahead of the launch of its next CP7 procurement process, Network Rail has recently been engaging with contractors and suppliers who are potentially interested in its £490 million framework, the CP7 North West & Central Region Phase 2. The framework is at the pre-tender stage and will run for five years from April 2024 (Project ID: 23088859).

New rail stations in areas of growing population are also providing opportunities for civil engineering contractors. One of the relatively few rail-related starts to get underway so far this year has been the new £157.1 million Beaulieu Park railway station north east of Chelmsford where J Murphy is the civils contractor. The project includes four platforms, a bus interchange and cycle and car parking and work is set to run until early 2026 (Project ID: 10034500).

Meanwhile, detailed plans have been granted for Network Rail’s new £40 million Brabazon Railway station at the former Filton Airfield near Bristol which has been given the go ahead and is at the pre-tender stage (Project ID: 21449153).

Glenigan customers can see details of all new rail construction projects if part of your subscription.
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