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Rebuilding for a proper gateway

Posted: 4 December 2013 | Network Rail | No comments yet

When the last round of redevelopment work began at Birmingham New Street in the 1960s, England were on the verge of winning the World Cup and rail travel was forecast to decline. Since then rail travel has enjoyed rather more success than the England football team and the station handles double the number of passengers it was designed for – 140,000 per day at the last count. Such was the overcrowding that four years ago Network Rail and its delivery partner Mace began to rebuild1 the station into a proper gateway for the City of Birmingham.

Network Rail Project Director Chris Montgomery said: “The New Street revamp is one of the most complex construction projects in Europe, as not only are we redeveloping a 1967 structure, we are also undertaking major construction and demolition over a live operating railway, without impacting any rail services or disrupting passengers as a result of our works.”

And in April 2013, passengers saw the first major change to the station’s operations, as the old concourse was shut and half of the planned new concourse area was brought into use.

When the last round of redevelopment work began at Birmingham New Street in the 1960s, England were on the verge of winning the World Cup and rail travel was forecast to decline. Since then rail travel has enjoyed rather more success than the England football team and the station handles double the number of passengers it was designed for – 140,000 per day at the last count. Such was the overcrowding that four years ago Network Rail and its delivery partner Mace began to rebuild1 the station into a proper gateway for the City of Birmingham.Network Rail Project Director Chris Montgomery said: “The New Street revamp is one of the most complex construction projects in Europe, as not only are we redeveloping a 1967 structure, we are also undertaking major construction and demolition over a live operating railway, without impacting any rail services or disrupting passengers as a result of our works.”And in April 2013, passengers saw the first major change to the station’s operations, as the old concourse was shut and half of the planned new concourse area was brought into use.

When the last round of redevelopment work began at Birmingham New Street in the 1960s, England were on the verge of winning the World Cup and rail travel was forecast to decline. Since then rail travel has enjoyed rather more success than the England football team and the station handles double the number of passengers it was designed for – 140,000 per day at the last count. Such was the overcrowding that four years ago Network Rail and its delivery partner Mace began to rebuild1 the station into a proper gateway for the City of Birmingham.

Network Rail Project Director Chris Montgomery said: “The New Street revamp is one of the most complex construction projects in Europe, as not only are we redeveloping a 1967 structure, we are also undertaking major construction and demolition over a live operating railway, without impacting any rail services or disrupting passengers as a result of our works.”

And in April 2013, passengers saw the first major change to the station’s operations, as the old concourse was shut and half of the planned new concourse area was brought into use.

For those who are unacquainted with New Street’s charms, the 1960s building, designed by British Rail’s in-house architect, hid the 12 platforms under a concrete raft and put the Pallasades shopping centre and car park on top. Hence, unusually for a large station, the platforms are considered to be ‘under ground’ and are subject to underground fire and safety regulations.

The nature of the raft meant that a straight demolition and rebuild was not possible. In fact the pressure on the station is so great that only one platform can be taken out of use at a time without causing the railway to grind to a halt, with a train arriving or departing every 37 seconds. So a design was created that would see a hole punched in the centre of the building, letting natural light down into a new concourse to be 3.5 times the size of the old station and created partly on the bones of the old and partly in the former NCP car park.

April 2013 saw the former car park space opened as a concourse, following the removal of 7,500 tonnes of concrete from within the structure. This was achieved by Mace con – structing a track and hoyer system, where crane rails were run the length of the building to act as the track, and a gantry crane brought in to act as the hoyer. The concrete was cut up and taken away in 10 tonne chunks, largely recycled on other construction projects in the region.

However, as if that wasn’t enough, a solution had to be found for moving the station’s service spine, which ran along the wall of the old concourse. A modular solution was chosen, which saw the new spine built in sections off-site and bolted together inside New Street and hidden in the roof space of the new concourse.

Once that was done, the original unloved concourse could be closed and passengers moved into part one of the new station. Despite effectively only being half-time in the project, the temporary concourse is still one and a half times bigger than the old and offers passengers a more modern, brighter environment with better ticket office facilities and access to platforms.

Work is now underway on the old concourse area, to create a large, inviting space, flooded with natural light from an ETFE (Ethylene Tetra Fluoro Ethylene) roof (the same material as used in the Eden Project biomes) and the atrium the height of eight double-decker buses. The 1967 structure was built as nine rectangular concrete sections and the hole is being created by removing the middle one, allowing the rest of the structure to continue to support itself.

Natural light will also then permeate the station and a new shopping centre, called Grand Central, which will wrap around the open area. Such has been the enthusiasm for the project that more than 80% of Grand Central’s 200,000 sq ft floor space has already been let, and it won’t even open until 2015.

The project also received a major boost in 2011, when John Lewis announced it was joining the scheme. Their 250,000 sq ft store – the firm’s biggest outside London – is taking shape on the site of a former housing tower block (Stephenson Tower) which was demolished earlier in the project. This and a new entrance will finally link the north and south of the city centre for the first time.

“The transformation on this side of the station will be vast, opening up this area of the city for the first time since the arrival of the railways in the 19th century, demonstrating how prohibitive the previous station has been for city connectivity,” explained Chris. “We’re working with Birmingham City Council on collaborative employment initiatives for local people throughout the life of the project.”

Similarly, the 12 platforms and the con – course will be linked by 30 escalators and 15 lifts, which will massively improve the accessibility of the station and the throughput of passengers. One platform at a time is being taken out of use and refurbished, working across the station in order, with materials brought in by train. That same train is used to remove waste and runs from the station twice a week, to a base on sidings out at Bordesley. The nature of the city centre site means lorry movements have to be kept to a minimum.

But it has not all been plain sailing.

Originally, the car park atop the 1967 structure was going to be refurbished. However, once work began it was discovered that salt from the underside of cars parked there had mixed with rainwater and found its way into cracks in the concrete. This in turn cased the reinforcing bars to corrode within the concrete and consequently the building had to be demolished and is now being re-built to serve Grand Central.

Similar problems were also encountered else-where in the structure, requiring expert attention.

Meanwhile, with more than 80 contractors working on the project, a small number have fallen into administration as the work has gone on, meaning new specialist workers had to be appointed and a 24/7 shift pattern introduced to hit deadlines.

But work continues at a great pace and more than 1,000 construction staff are working towards the 2015-opening of what is intended to be a massive spur to regeneration.

As well as John Lewis, the Grand Central shopping centre will bring more than 40 new shops and 20 restaurants to the site, creating more than 1,000 new jobs. When finished, a polished stainless-steel casing will be fixed to the exterior of the building (currently grey concrete), to reflect the sky and the City of Birmingham growing around it.

Reference

1. The Birmingham New Street redevelopment project is funded by Birmingham City Council, the Department for Transport, Centro, the European Union and the Department of Business Innovation and Skills and is being delivered by Network Rail and Mace.

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