Aerial view of the vast Old Oak Common station construction site in London

British rail freight keeps HS2 on schedule at Old Oak Common

Aerial view of the vast Old Oak Common station site in London Image HS2 media centre

Two years into the project and ramping up to around 1.500 trains a year. Five freight services a day is the average service for the vast HS2 project, and nowhere is that more evident than in the “Super-hub” interim terminus in the west of London. The high-speed railway project may not make it to central London for several years, but it is certainly taking shape at Old Oak Common.

The UK government may have, in their words, paused construction on parts of the project, but there’s no let-up at Old Oak Common. The installation has been completed of the 1.2-mile (1.92 km) diaphragm wall forming the underground box housing six new high-speed platforms for future HS2 services. The milestone was followed by the completion of the first “base slab” concrete pour at the western end of the station box.

Rail freight more important than ever

With so much of the HS2 route into London underground, excavation work is well underway. Over 465.000 cubic meters of London clay have already been removed from the site. To facilitate loading, a 1.7-mile (2.72 km) conveyor network has been employed to transport the excavated clay to the freight railhead. This radically reduces the number of road movements, as the conveyor supplies an almost endless round of freight trains contracted especially for the project.

An HS2 freight train at night is one of 15,000 such trains supporting the construction project over its ten year lifespan
An HS2 freight train at night is one of 15,000 such trains supporting the construction project over its ten year lifespan

Even with the amendments to the project, the HS2 construction phase is still expected to require over 15,000 train loads of materials, spoil, and supplies to be transported over the span of ten years. A significant proportion of those workings are scheduled for the Old Oak Common site. The construction of HS2 is so big, that it has been contingent on utilising the heavy lifting power of the rail freight sector. It is unlikely that there is sufficient road transport to answer the level of demand that would otherwise be required. HS2 statements have repeatedly underscored the dependence on the rail freight sector for bulk movements.

First improvement is to demolish a railway

To date, the construction team has installed over 900 of the 1,600 concrete piles needed for the HS2 station superstructure and the overground platforms for the conventional train network. With the project on schedule, the piling work for the second half of the Super-hub, which includes eight platforms serving the Great Western Mainline and Heathrow Express services, has commenced already. Platform construction is scheduled to begin later in 2023. To fulfil its status as a Super-hub, Old Oak Common will be the west London rail interchange in an area that is already criss-cross by tracks. HS2 say they will bring these all together, creating new transport opportunities, long before the high speed trains from Birmingham start to arrive. 

Ironically, one of the first infrastructure improvements was the removal in March of a redundant railway bridge. The disused Wycombe Line Bridge has been removed to allow for the widening of the Great Western Mainline track alignment as it approaches the new station. “We are well underway in our work to construct London’s newest super-hub station”, said Huw Edwards, HS2’s project client. “We are already seeing that the new station is becoming a catalyst for regeneration in the Old Oak and Park Royal area. Upon completion, it will harness the close linkage with the newly opened Elizabeth Line, dramatically improving connectivity and creating a new destination to live and work in London.”

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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British rail freight keeps HS2 on schedule at Old Oak Common | RailFreight.com