Is it possible to develop around a quarter of a million new homes in London by building apartments above rail lines? The answer is yes, according to a new report published today.

The report, entitled ‘Out of Thin Air’, says there is the potential to provide all the new homes London needs if existing engineering techniques were used to construct apartment blocks directly above rail, Overground and Underground lines.

Research from the report identified all rail tracks in Transport for London’s (TfL) fare zones 1-6 where there were no breaks in the track made by tunnels, roads or bridges and where there was ten metres of available land on both sides. This would allow for the development of 100m² apartments in buildings rising to 12 storeys. If a conservative 10% of this total was delivered it would provide 250,969 new homes.

The London boroughs of Brent, Ealing and Croydon and TfL Zones 2, 3 and 4 provided the most ‘overbuild’ development potential.

Rail lines with development potential:

Available rail lines for development

Number of hectares available by borough:

Available land by borough

Bill Price, WSP director, said “We have to be more creative in using existing space in what remains a relatively low-rise city. The air rights above rail tracks present an unrealised but significant opportunity to build more new homes on brownfield land. It’s important to emphasise the engineering is absolutely possible and not new. We have been working on projects of this nature in New York for decades. Right now in London we are working on a variety of projects that rise above rail lines including a 50-storey residential tower, homes above a new Crossrail station and even a Premier League stadium.”

“There is a wider point about how we can better connect communities and unlock new homes not just above rail lines but adjacent to them as well. In some parts of London rail lines act as accidental segregators. By ‘decking’ over these lines, such as the proposed regeneration west of Earls Court underground station, we can join together sites to unlock an even higher number of new homes and create new vibrant communities.”

The thinking behind the report emerged after Network Rail appointed WSP in 2012 to study the feasibility of building above rail lines. The study’s conclusions, which focused on the type of decking and noise and vibration issues are detailed in the new report. CGI designs are also provided of what rail overbuild might look like if implemented near a major rail terminal in Central London, above a rail line in West London, and above a station in North London.

Out of Thin Air follows a previous WSP report, ‘Building Our Way Out of a Crisis’, which argued that up to 630,000 new homes in London could be found by building apartments above public buildings such as hospitals and schools.

HS2 has taken a major step forward, with the formal signing of contracts to deliver the tunnels, bridges and earthworks that will carry the first phase of the UK’s new high speed railway from London to Birmingham in 2026.

High Speed Two (HS2) Ltd Chief Executive, Mark Thurston, was joined by representatives from SCS JV, Align JV, CEK JV and Balfour Beatty VINCI, in a signing ceremony at the company’s Birmingham head office. The winning companies, whose names were released by the Department for Transport last month (17 July 2017), will go on to support 16,000 jobs across the UK-wide supply chain as they deliver what will be the biggest investment in UK’s transport infrastructure since the building of the motorways.

High Speed Two (HS2) Ltd Chief Executive, Mark Thurston, was joined by representatives from SCS JV, Align JV, CEK JV and Balfour Beatty VINCI, in a signing ceremony at the company’s Birmingham head office. The winning companies, whose names were released by the Department for Transport last month (17 July 2017), will go on to support 16,000 jobs across the UK-wide supply chain as they deliver what will be the biggest investment in UK’s transport infrastructure since the building of the motorways.

Welcoming the milestone for the project, HS2 Chief Executive Mark Thurston said “HS2 is more than just a railway. The contracts will provide much needed extra capacity and connectivity between our major cities, but it will also unlock huge opportunities for new jobs, homes and economic development and start to rebalance our economy.

“We are determined to deliver the project to new levels of safety and efficiency, with respect for communities, protection for the environment and value for money at the core of everything we do. The contracts we signed today will support 16,000 jobs and generate thousands of contract opportunities within the wider supply chain, spreading the benefits of this investment across the whole country.”

A team made up of Skanska, Costain and STRABAG (SCS JV) will build the first section of the route which is in a tunnel between Euston and Old Oak Common and onwards to Northolt. Welcoming the contract award, Peter Jones, Executive Director and SCS JV board member said “We are delighted to have been awarded these major contracts by HS2 which follow on from the South Enabling Works Contract awarded last year.

The awards are further testimony to the SCS collaborative approach and our strong track record in applying technology-based innovative solutions in the delivery of large-scale projects.

Align JV, a team made up of Bouygues, VolkerFitzpatrick and Sir Robert McAlpine will build the next stage, including the Colne Valley Viaduct and Chilterns Tunnel. Welcoming the contract award, Jérôme Furgé, Align Project Director said “I have worked on many major projects around the world, and find it a special privilege to be working on HS2. This project will require a unique level of collaboration between all of us and the highest industry standards, expected by HS2, will be implemented in order to obtain the very best outcome. My Align colleagues and I are delighted to be part of the challenge to deliver a world-class asset to the UK.

The largely rural stages between the Chilterns Tunnel and Long Itchington will be built by a team made up of Carillion, Eiffage and Kier (CEK JV). Welcoming the contract award, Sean Jeffery, Executive Director and Chairman of CEK JV Board said “We are delighted to have been selected to help deliver this major infrastructure project and look forward to working in partnership with HS2. Our involvement in this project will enable us to create many new jobs and training opportunities as well as working with a diverse range of supply chain businesses from across the UK.”

A team made up of Balfour Beatty and VINCI will complete the route, taking the line north past Birmingham Airport and into the new Curzon Street station in the centre of Birmingham, as well as onward to a connection with the existing West Coast Mainline at Handsacre. Welcoming the contract award, Mark Cutler, Balfour Beatty VINCI HS2 Managing Director, said “I am proud that our long-standing joint venture has been chosen to deliver these two important and complex sections of HS2.

“This iconic rail infrastructure project will create significant opportunities for the UK construction industry and enable long term benefits in skills, jobs and regional prosperity. We look forward to building on our successful track record of major infrastructure projects, and playing our part in the delivery of HS2.”

The contracts are two-stage, with the contractors spending the first 16 months working collaboratively with HS2 Ltd on the detailed design before construction begins around 2018/19. Preparatory work has already begun on the project with geological investigation underway across the route and ecological and archaeological work due to begin soon.

The CEO of HS2 project, Simon Kirby is leaving HS2 for a new job with Rolls-Royce as chief operating officer.

Kirby was announced as CEO of HS2 Ltd in January 2014, but controversially did not join HS2 Ltd until June 2014, meaning he could cash in on a £300,000 ‘loyalty bonus’ from Network Rail. Not long after he and Chairman Sir David Higgins joined from Network Rail, it became evident that many of the projects they had been responsible were over budget and behind schedule, leading to then Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin ‘pausing’ electrification projects pending review.

On joining HS2 Ltd, Kirby became the highest paid civil servant in the country, earning £750,000, five times the salary of the Prime Minister. he justified this saying he could get the project in on time and budget, but since then both the budget and the timescales have gone the wrong way.

Simon Kirby made it clear that he is not leaving due to a loss of confidence in the project, saying in a statement on the government website: “HS2 is not just a highly ambitious project, but also one which will leave a lasting legacy for Britain. It has been, therefore, a huge honour to have been its Chief Executive and to have been involved in creating a leadership team made up of the best talents from this country and elsewhere. I have absolute confidence in their ability to deliver the project and, in doing so, to help transform the way we do things in this country.”

This is being refuted by many, with Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin commenting “When Simon Kirby was at Network Rail, he presided over failing projects with inflating costs and delays, but got out before anyone noticed how bad it really was. With HS2 deadlines constantly put back, spiralling costs, secret reports and devastating analyses of the project from every independent body which has investigated it, you can’t help think he is doing the same thing again, getting out before the true scale of the mess he has presided over is realised.”

“The departure of Simon Kirby will be a serious blow to those who champion HS2, though many of us are at a complete loss to see just exactly what it is he has done to justify his three-quarter of a million pay packet.”

Image above: New e320 train on the left and refurbished e300 train on the right.

Alongside introducing its new Siemens e320 trains, the first of which began operating in commercial service on November 20th 2015, Eurostar is carrying out a complete re-modelling of its original trains. The Class 373s which are being rebranded as e300s have been in service for over21 years since the launch of Eurostar in 1994.The complete and complex refurbishment of the interior and exterior of the trains is being carried out in SNCF’s Hellemmes Technicentre in Lille. It covers all mechanical components as well as the design of the train which is being changed to mirror the look and feel of the new e320 trains. created for Eurostar by Italian design house Pininfarina.

The role of Powdertech Corby Ltd

As part of the refurbishment, the interiors were shipped to Powdertech Corby Ltd, in Northamptonshire for stripping and powder coating.

The various components were divided into sets for six different paint colours. Powdertech (Corby) Ltd spent six months dealing with an enormous train set, or parts of one at least. Once coated, the pieces were repackaged and sent back to Lille where the carriages were reassembled. Tagging and labelling of the parts was absolutely critical as there are slight variations between carriages and trains. The engineering company overseeing the reconstruction used a system of unique identification involving a grid of dots, similar to a QR code, imprinted on to the metal. This coding system would ensure that every part went back to the right place in the right carriage on the right train.

Eurostar required a powder coater that could deal with the high demands of the refurbishment programme, not only in terms of high quality powders and coating proficiency but also the operational logistics of dealing with the numerous parts and correct customised powder colours. Following a visit to Powdertech’s factory in Corby, Eurostar deemed the company capable of meeting the exacting requirements.

“Cleaning the metal was a challenge,” said Powdertech Sales Director, Richard Besant “Together with the old paint, twenty one year’s of grease and grime needed removing, not to mention carpet and carpet glue from many of the sections. Powdertech looked into a variety of paint stripping and surface cleaning methods and used, amongst others, blasting with glass beading, orbital sanding and metal polishing.”

The six powder colours were custom made for Eurostar by Axalta, for whom Powdertech is an approved applicator. The first refurbished e300 train set, capable of carrying 750 passengers, set forth from London to Brussels in September 2015. Rail travel expert Mark Smith of train travellers’ website (named after his favourite Eurostar seat) was on board and tweeted “Internally it’s unrecognisable – most passengers will think it’s a brand new train. Superb job”.

“That says it all for us,” said Richard Besant. “We are delighted that Powdertech Corby was chosen to make such a big contribution to this exciting makeover project.”

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