Moving towards the opening of Birmingham New Street station
Posted: 6 August 2015 | | 1 comment
After five years of engineering and building works, the finished product is now in sight at Birmingham New Street Station. In this article, Chris Montgomery, Network Rail’s Project Director for the Birmingham New Street project, details what the new station will mean for its passengers, and the city as a whole.
It is not long to go now until the opening of the new Birmingham New Street Station, and it is really taking shape. The building of the new station has been a long and exciting journey for both passengers and all those involved as they have watched as we transformed an old, tired 1960s structure into a fantastic eye-catching building at the very heart of Birmingham.
New Street Station is the busiest station outside London and the busiest interchange station in the UK with a train movement every 37 seconds. Back in 2010, 140,000 passengers used the station everyday – which was over double the number it was built for in 1967. At peak times the station had to close as it could no longer cope with the number of people trying to get to their trains. The completion of the upgrade to the West Coast Main Line saw increasing numbers of business and leisure travellers leaving their cars at home and taking the train. Today we see over 170,000 daily passengers using the station so we can see that Network Rail’s plans for New Street were vital to meet that ever growing demand. The new station will be able to cope with this increase in passenger numbers and forecasted increases for the next 40 years.
As well as the overcrowding issues, the 1960s structure had other major drawbacks. It was dark, unwelcoming and provided poor access for passengers. But with such a big challenge and such high passenger numbers, taking on such a big project without affecting the railway was a huge task. However with careful planning and a phased approach there has been minimal disruption for the thousands of people using the station every day. We have managed to keep the station open throughout the project allowing passengers to catch their trains as normal.
The project team have done an amazing job to undertake the complex, five-year-long civil engineering and building works whilst keeping the station fully operational. We have faced some big construction challenges.
To keep the station open throughout the work we split the project into two phases. During the first phase we removed an entire floor from the multi-story car park adjacent to the station and made this into part of the new concourse which opened on 28 April 2012. Overnight on 27 April we closed the old concourse and all of its existing entrances to passengers. The following morning we opened the first part of the new concourse and three new entrances, with cars using a new entrance too. This meant that we could keep passengers moving through New Street while keeping the station open. Our communications team had a big task in letting passengers know about the changes and they reached well over one million people. The new part of the station was much brighter and lighter than the old building, but it is nothing in comparison to what passengers will experience in September 2015 when the atrium is uncovered.
At platform level the station is blocked in by the foundations of surrounding buildings making expansion very problematic. The Bullring to the west and the buildings to the north east limit the number of tracks which can serve the 12 platforms. To create more space at this level we have removed the numerous rooms on the platforms to open them up and make more space for passengers. Combining this with new lighting, cladding and flooring creates a much more spacious and brighter atmosphere even though they are underground.
Another big challenge was to build the atrium structure on top of the old building as it meant adding just over 1,000 tonnes of steel and other materials to a building with over 170,000 people walking through it every day, sitting over a live railway. It was a huge technical challenge as New Street and the shopping centre above is made up of nine structures and we were adding a huge weight across these structures. Temporary works were put in to disperse the weight while the atrium roof was built before it was finally transferred onto the structure in the summer of 2014 and the demolition of the floors underneath could begin.
The demolition for the atrium void consisted of the removal of 10,000 tonnes of reinforced concrete from the old roof and middle floor of the building. It was originally planned to take place over 12 months but due to careful planning and innovative new working techniques this was reduced to less than six. Demolition by its very nature is noisy work so we had to find ways to work around the clock without disturbing our many neighbours. The traditional method of ‘hammering’ or ‘pecking’ the concrete was abandoned at night by the local contractor, Coleman’s, who restricted concrete slab breaking to the daytime. They teamed up with JCB to create a bespoke concrete ‘munching’ machine which pulverised the existing building into small pieces prior to removal – all done directly above 170,000 passengers a day!
The stainless steel façade to the building which will provide an iconic image of the station for years to come, proved challenging. The rebar in the old structure is not uniform making it difficult to attach the large steel plates to which we attach the cantilevers which create the stunning shapes for the cladding. The structure was x-rayed to map the complex maze of rebar and then each plate was specially designed and fabricated to securely link the new façade into the old structure. This façade is vast, comprising of 12,000 tonnes of steel and covering over 15,000 square metres – enough to cover two whole football pitches.
There have been many other challenges throughout the build which have been overcome with some incredibly innovative ideas. The age of the building has meant that we have been faced with all sorts of issues surrounding the strength and quality of the concrete. The team found ways to detect weak areas and strengthen beams and columns to withstand all the strains and stresses we have put on the structure to create this new incarnation of Birmingham New Street. Awards are being won across the board by the team for their work on this project which is nothing less than they deserve.
What’s left to do before the opening?
Well, at the time of providing this article, it’s just a matter of finishing the stainless steel cladding, completing final finishes to the flooring, atrium and managing the 2,000 plus extra contractors who will be on site to fit out all the new retail units both on the concourse and up in Grand Central.
Passengers will benefit from:
- A lot more space and much better facilities
- Natural light at concourse level through the impressive new cathedral like atrium structure
- More accessible, brighter and clearer platforms serviced by over 30 new escalators and over 15 new public lifts
- A grand concourse enclosed by a giant atrium which will be a staggering five times bigger than the old station
- A stunning new station façade, adding to Birmingham’s growing reputation for good design
- Better links to and through the station for pedestrians with new entrances and public spaces.
The new stainless steel façade will reflect the trains and people as they come in and out of the station showing the movement of the city and ebb and flow of day to night and seasons throughout the year which was the vison of the architect.
In addition to all of this the redevelopment of Birmingham New Street station will also contribute significantly to the region’s economy, generating new jobs and wider economic and regeneration benefits. This sits at the heart of Birmingham City Council’s city masterplan to develop more business opportunities, increase tourism and enhance the city’s image. The Birmingham New Street and Grand Central redevelopment with the new John Lewis store opens up the city centre and reconnects the north and south sides for the first time since the arrival of the railways in the 19th century. In doing so, it plays a large part in regenerating Birmingham city centre, creating thousands of jobs.
Come opening in September 2015, the people of Birmingham will get a station fit for Britain’s second city and transform the passenger experience for the thousands of people who use New Street every day. From day one passengers will enjoy a bright, modern 21st century focal point for the city and a world class transport hub – one that passengers, the people of Birmingham and the West Midlands deserve.
Opening dates now confirmed
In a Network Rail press release distributed on 6 July 2015, Birmingham New Street station, with its stunning atrium and huge concourse, will open its doors on Sunday 20 September 2015.
Grand Central, the shopping complex built above the station, complete with John Lewis store and more than 60 other retailers, will open its doors on Thursday 24 September 2015.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin MP said: “This magnificent new station will transform journeys for millions of people, create thousands of jobs, and secure long-term economic growth in Birmingham and beyond. I congratulate everyone involved, and I look forward to seeing the station open in September. Investing in schemes like these is at the heart of our commitment to provide better journeys for passengers across the UK, support business growth and bring our country together.”
Chris Montgomery has been Project Director of the Birmingham Gateway project since 2009. A Chartered Engineer with a vast experience of the UK contracting industry, Chris has a proven track record of delivering complex and demanding projects across the UK. After graduating, Chris worked on a variety of civil engineering projects before joining Birse where he rose from a sub-agent role to becoming Managing Director of Birse Rail in 2008. His time at Birse saw him working on major projects such as the West Coast Main Line upgrade and eventually taking responsibility for the performance of the whole business.