This case study explains how a collaborative rail industry approach, during an eight day blockade in summer 2017 around completion of the London Bridge infrastructure works, prevented passenger disruption.
Between 26 August and 2 September 2017, the Thameslink Programme undertook major engineering work, effectively completing the infrastructure for the Charing Cross services through London Bridge station. The lines were routed through the newly constructed Bermondsey Dive Under and into platforms 6 to 9 at London Bridge, following which Platform 6 was brought into passenger use.
This was one of the most challenging major sections of engineering work that the Thameslink Programme has delivered since January 2015. The work required an eight-day blockade, including four working days, where Southeastern services could no longer travel into London Bridge, Charing Cross or Waterloo East and instead diverted to other key terminals.
Extensive preparation was required to provide assurance that the proper readiness was in place, so that the blockade could go ahead. This was carried out by teams working across the Thameslink Programme and Network Rail’s South East route including operations, station teams, railway systems and communications.
South East route operational resilience
The Thameslink team assisted the South East route by providing a robust and resilient train service for during the blockade. In order to run as many passengers in and out of London as possible while London Bridge, Charing Cross and Waterloo East were closed, Southeastern ran two trains per hour into Waterloo International during the four working days (29 August – 1 September).
Ahead of the blockade, Network Rail’s South East route worked with Thameslink Programme colleagues to develop comprehensive contingency plans, to be implemented in the event of engineering overrun of either Thameslink engineering work or the Waterloo blockade. When the Waterloo blockade did in fact overrun by a few hours, the team seamlessly re-routed the services into Blackfriars, supported by a strong communications response.
Additional mobile operations managers (MOMs) coverage was arranged for during the blockade, in addition to support from the Emergency Intervention Unit and the Network Rail helicopter, which was available to the route for the eight days. Control staff were involved ahead of the blockade to review command and control arrangements and industry response to any issues that could arise. In advance of the blockade, the maintenance readiness teams undertook a detailed programme of checks and approvals for the assets that were going to be commissioned.
Railway systems – ahead of the blockade
In the months preceding the August blockade, the Thameslink Programme’s railway systems team, consisting of Network Rail and contractors Siemens and Balfour Beatty, undertook preliminary engineering work to make sure the track was in the best possible position ahead of the blockade.
On the eastern approaches to London Bridge, the Thameslink team renewed over 800m of track on behalf of Network Rail’s South East route, to make sure that the infrastructure was ready and resilient to the train service that was going to be reintroduced after the blockade.
During the blockade there was an operational plan put in place that saw two Southeastern trains per hour diverted to London Waterloo International. To do this, a piece of track known as the Linford Street curve, which was installed for the old Eurostar services, was re-energised for the first time since 2007. The track was successfully commissioned on 30 July, after the team had built a temporary Track Parallel (TP) hut and carried out associated con-rail works. The team delivered this in just five months, including staff training.
A ‘one station, one team’ approach between Network Rail, the train operating companies, TfL, the British Transport Police and local stakeholders was implemented in the months approaching August to make sure that the managed stations’ plans were resilient enough to support the blockade.
To reduce risk, the team undertook a deep-dive analysis of lessons learnt from previous incidents and blockades and these were built into initial and contingency plans. The station teams prepared robust operational plans to support the swift implementation of crowd control, queuing systems and measures to improve customer experience, including enhanced way-finding, small ‘thank you’ packs of sweets for passengers and clear, real-time information.
Over 9 months, a fully integrated Thameslink Programme communications delivery team – consisting of Network Rail, the Department for Transport, the train operators Southeastern and GTR, and TfL – designed and delivered an effective, phased campaign to: notify passengers of the blockade, achieve 85% awareness of resulting service changes and encourage behaviour change in support of Travel Demand management suppression requirements of 20%. Over the course of the campaign, the team successfully directed passengers to online tools, identified relevant industry stakeholders and kept them informed, managed the impact on passengers, employers and businesses, engaged with NR and TOC staff and developed water-tight contingency communications.
All while continuing to sensitively promote the scale, complexity and benefits of the work and the wider Thameslink Programme.
Southeastern was the most affected train operating company, since 47% of its passengers start or end their journeys at London Bridge or use it as an interchange with other public transport. During the programme’s delivery, Southeastern’s customers experienced altered services, changed timetables and diversions to other London stations.
Outcome and benefits
The clearest piece of evidence that the operational readiness campaign was a success is that the blockade itself met each of its objectives. Every stage of the Thameslink Programme engineering work was completed successfully and the railway was handed back on time. The robust assurance and comprehensive contingency plans allowed the teams to seamlessly implement the re-routing of trains from Waterloo International to Blackfriars when the Waterloo blockade overran.
From a passenger perspective, the bold and consistent passenger information campaign achieved 99% passenger awareness amongst Southeastern passengers, gaining the required cut-through to suppress passenger demand:
- Insight tracking showed 52% national awareness of our campaign, 99.2% Southeastern passenger awareness and a 87% behaviour change among targeted passengers
- 67% awareness amongst business stakeholder groups
- Positive, wide-ranging media and social media coverage across all channels
- The communications campaign was the winner of the Government Communications Service (GGS) October campaign of the month – which is open to all government and arm’s length bodies.
“This multi-channel campaign demonstrates best practice in passenger communications.” Transport Focus
“…the positive feedback from passengers reflects the well planned communications and work of everyone.” Paul Maynard MP, Rail Minister
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