Collaboration 10 September 2019

Managing Complexity: The Derby Resignalling Project

The £200m track realignment and signalling renewal scheme at Derby station was successfully completed in 2018 but work to manage this major, complex project – which required a 79-day disruptive possession of the Midland Main Line – began years in advance. Early, detailed planning enabled the team to understand and consequently manage the issues and opportunities involved with its many moving parts, including access, collaboration, communications, community engagement, consents, design, ecology, engineering, engagement, planning, possession, risk, safety and signalling. As a result, the project was delivered successfully, to time and budget, and disruption to passengers, freight and other projects on the network was minimised.

Benefits at a Glance:

  • No surprises: everyone involved in delivering the project understood what the site would look like and how it would operate hour by hour, at least two years before work began. This unlocked a host of benefits including:
    • Detailed supply chain partner briefings
    • A one team approach from a supply chain partner perspective
    • Co-ordinated and effective passenger communications
    • Early engagement with local businesses and neighbours
    • Safe and efficient work on site
  • De-risking the project: some work was able to take place years before it was required, by taking advantage of existing disruptive possessions and other opportunities
  • Several disciplines, one team: Disciplines across Network Rail and its supply chain partners worked together to make sure that the right things happened at the right time to make the project a success
  • Continuity: Key individuals worked together on the project for at least two years prior to works beginning to final handback which meant knowledge and history of the project was retained in the team
  • Proactive approach to safety management: encouragement to raise and resolve (where possible) close calls and regular, short safety stand downs translated to a good safety record on site

The Derby Resignalling project was successfully completed on 8 October 2018 following a 79-day disruptive possession of the Midland Main Line, which meant access to the rail network was restricted and timetabled passenger and freight services were impacted. It was delivered to time and budget.

The safety record was impressive: not a single LTI (Lost Time Incident requiring the injured person to stop work) was reported during the possession. To put that into perspective, the £200m track realignment and signalling renewal scheme required 600,000 hours of work, 17km of new track, 79 sets of points, 63 new signals, 240 engineering trains and 150,000 tonnes of ballast.

The possession required weekly timetable changes as the work transitioned from the south to the north of the station over a 9-mile-long worksite that necessitated 5,400 bus replacement journeys. Yet there were only 15 complaints from the public during this period, and surveys revealed that public support for the work actually increased throughout the project, peaking at 47%. Positive feedback was received from stakeholders that included Rail Forum Midlands, Rail Engineer Magazine and the Department for Transport.

Was this fantastic outcome down to luck? No. It was entirely down to the judgement involved in taking the right approach.

The foreseeable future

The railway network is an interdependent infrastructure and every action that takes place on it has the potential to affect other areas. Imagine dropping a penny in a still pool; the concentric circles that radiate outwards represent the potential impacts that a project can have. The larger and more complex the project, the bigger, and more far reaching, the impact may be. Therefore, for any rail project to be successful it is critical that it understands and evaluates not only the potential impacts of its own project on others, but also the impact of others’ work on itself.

To understand and manage the complex Derby resignalling project, the Sponsor and project teams began planning, in granular detail, at least two and a half years before boots hit ballast. No generalisations were allowed; the team always sought specific, detailed information and where it wasn’t yet available, sought to find it by reaching out to outside teams or bodies, or put measures in place to generate it themselves.

They began by mapping out all the known activity and then asking critical questions:

  • What else can we forsee that may impact our work? Who haven’t we asked or where haven’t we looked?
  • What other teams, both inside and outside Network Rail, can help at this stage?
  • Can our supply chain partners bring their experience and expertise to bear at this stage?
  • Who are our stakeholders? Can their input help at this stage?
  • Have we considered…?
  • Are there lessons learned or best practices that we can apply at this stage?

Understanding – and therefore managing – the many foreseeable things that may happen is critical to the success of any rail project. This is because there are so many things that you simply can’t know about beforehand, but their impact will need to be mitigated. This can include, but is not limited to, unseasonable weather conditions, an overrun from another worksite, a new TOC (train operating company), new legislation, a key supply chain partner being liquidated or an accident.

Early Engagement

A key lesson learned from the Derby project is that it is never too early to engage with parties involved in delivering a successful project and build a productive working relationship.

In the case of Derby this included:

  • Network Rail internal teams such as communications, consents, ecology, engineering, planning, project management, possession, risk, safety and signalling teams. Disciplines worked closely together to ensure that the team was always focussing on the right areas.
  • Supply chain partners, who bought outside experience, expertise and best practice.
  • Train Operating Companies
  • Freight Operating Companies

By piggy backing on other projects’ disruptive possessions the team was able to obtain more track access and carry out works in advance. This ground-breaking approach not only allowed the team to  de-risk the final commissioning but also provided valuable opportunities for the reporting and command and control mechanisms to be established well before the commissioning started. This gave all parties involved the opportunity to work together before the possession began.

Stakeholder Management

Early, consistent and two-way engagement with stakeholders – including local and national government, train and freight operating companies and the travelling public – supported clear understanding of the project, raised issues that were then dealt with early and even helped the project team build advocates. It also afforded affected organisations time to plan ways to minimise disruption and communicate with their own stakeholders.

For example, early engagement with East Midlands Trains enabled access to be agreed, and for their stakeholders, such as ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, to be notified and involved. Subsequent access issues in and around the station were resolved at a local level. Periodic review meetings ensured that communications were maintained and that there were no surprises.

The team found it was particularly effective to have a single point of contact each stakeholder organisation and for them to have the same within Network Rail. This facilitated relationship building, decision making and the smooth flow of information.

Site Management

The team took various steps to ensure that excellent, two-way communications underpinned everything that happened on site so that decisions could be informed and timely, and that everyone would be kept safe. These included:

  • Detailed briefing to explain the work of every contractor hour by hour, held by the primary contractor. Every contractor was represented, and had received a detailed integration plan beforehand
  • One day, offsite briefing with site operatives at Pride Park Stadium before work began covering everything from safety, to what was going to happen when, to dealing with members of the public
  • Creating a commissioning control team that was operational 24/7. Real time camera feeds not only allowed them to see and understand what was happening on site but also provide accurate, real time reporting on project progress which in turn supported stakeholder engagement
  • Supervisors received a briefing before the start of their shift, including the location of trains and volumes achieved in the previous shift.



  • Few complaints: passenger complaints were <0.1%, despite the disruptive nature of the works, thanks to a highly successful passenger communications campaign. You can read more about that
  • There were no major or lost time injuries throughout the 79-day possession
  • Work was completed to time and budget.

Lessons Learned/Best Practice

  • A granular understanding of what needs to happen on site hour by hour allows the project to work at optimum efficiency. For example, it was possible to coordinate where the switches and crossings contractor would lay down a signal to allow the signalling contractor to recover it later,
  • The final commissioning was de-risked by carrying out works in advance, so always look for opportunities to piggy back on other projects’ disruptive possessions to obtain more track access.
  • Make the most of the opportunities your disruptive possession presents. For example, the team painted and refurbished stations on the Matlock during its 79-day possession
  • Establish a collaborative culture across teams and organisations and embed it from top to bottom. In our case, this was developing a collaborative culture across teams and organisations, which was embedded from top to bottom. This was underpinned by a ‘leading by example’ culture, empowering teams to solve issues at a local level, and co-location where possible
  • It is never too early to engage with major stakeholders. The first step is to determine who your stakeholders are and to understand their areas of influence
  • Our 24/7 commissioning control team was invaluable. Real time camera feeds not only allowed them to see and understand what was happening on site but also provide accurate, real time reporting on project progress. The team also provided a single point of contact for any issues
  • Don’t lose information between shifts. Before each new shift began, all supervisors received a whiteboard briefing that included location of trains and volumes achieved in the previous shift.
  • Prepare for audits so that they enhance – not detract – focus from delivery. The project successfully passed many audits, including the Hendy review, assurance reviews, ECAM, PC assurance team, environmental team, IP Signalling deep dives. This was achieved by holding pre-audit meetings, having a single point of contact to prepare all documentation, and generating documentation that could be used across audits
  • Understand specific risks so that you can put specific mitigation measures in place. Throughout the project lifecycle there was a sharp understanding of the relevant and specific risks associated with delivery thanks to regular, multidisciplinary risk reviews. These risks were captured in ARM

Further viewing:

  • Link to animation: