Reading Station – Easter 2013

This is a lengthy Public Information post on Reading station.

Reading station is a major rail interchange in a town in Berkshire. In the 2010-11 passenger figures, still the most recent available, it had 14,400,405 entries and exits, 2,898,671 attributed interchanges and the status of being the 25th busiest station on National Rail, as well as being the busiest largely unelectrified station in England and Wales. The current station, largely dating from the early 20th century with some 1980s additions, has been deemed unsuitable for this level of traffic flow and will be substantially redesigned this Easter.

On Monday 8th of April 2013, Reading station will re-open with several major changes. Those familiar with the station will find the place practically unrecognisable. It’s the third of a string of major blockades of the station as part of its remodelling – there are still several more to come – but internally marks the sixth phase of development.

This is what we began from – in April 2009:Reading 5 JPGMain line side of station looking towards London, during engineering works closing these two platforms – No. 4 (Down Main) on the right, the Up Through running through the middle and No. 5  (Up Main) on the left. The Southern bay platforms 4a and 4b (officially for Charing Cross, but actually served by Waterloo and Gatwick Airport trains) are under the footbridge in the distance. The large yellow brick structure is the station’s original main building, which will survive the project and maintain its role as the Three Guineas pub. It was abandoned by British Rail in 1989.

Reading 6 JPGRelief line side of station, also looking towards London, during a rare quiet moment. The bay platform to the right is No. 7, this is No. 8 (No. 6 was the bay at the other end of the station) and No. 9 is off to the left. Bay platform 10 is at the far end of No. 9. In the middle is space for an additional line for through movements and loco stabling, long ago abolished. Goods trains ran around the goods loops discretely laid behind the buildings on platform 9.

Reading 7 JPGAnother London-facing view from the east end of platform 4, with both platforms 4a and 4b to the right occupied by South West Trains “Juniper” units and a Thames Turbo in platform 6 to the left. All Reading through platforms have signals at both ends to allow trains to depart in either direction.

The platforms were used broadly as follows:

  • Platform 1: Terminating stopping trains to and from Newbury and Bedwyn (west end bay);
  • Platform 2: Terminating stopping trains to and from Basingstoke (west end bay);
  • Platform 3: Terminating Cross Country services, predominantly to and from Newcastle (west end bay);
  • Platform 4: Down Main – all fast trains from London Paddington to Bristol, South Wales, Oxford, Banbury, Worcester, Hereford, Gloucester/ Cheltenham, Bedwyn, Westbury, Exeter, Paignton, Plymouth and Penzance  (a status held since the station opened in 1837);
  • Platforms 4a/b: Charing Cross bays – no longer used by South Eastern trains, instead handling the suburban service from London Waterloo (simply advertised as “Waterloo”, no doubt partly to discourage the uninitiated from embarking on this hour-long journey to get to London) and most of the services from Guildford, Redhill and Gatwick Airport. The only electrified platforms in the station;
  • Up Through: Predominantly used by empty moves, since most passenger trains stop at Reading (there are a couple of exceptions in the morning peak) and goods trains use the relief lines and goods loops;
  • Platform 5: Up Main – majority of fast trains to London Paddington returning from the destinations listed under 4;
  • Platform 6: Up Relief-side Bay – terminating stopping trains from London Paddington and their return workings (advertised as going to Ealing Broadway, again to discourage the uninitiated) plus occasional Gatwick trains which didn’t fit into 4a/b;
  • Platform 7: Down Relief-side Bay – usually Cross Country services reversing on journeys between the North of England and the South Coast or return;
  • Platform 8: Down Relief – stopping trains to Didcot and Oxford (Oxford ones advertised as terminating at Radley to discourage the uninitiated) plus occasional fast trains to London Paddington when Platform 5 needed a break;
  • Platform 9: Up Relief – stopping trains to London Paddington from Didcot and Oxford;
  • Platform 10: Up Relief-side Bay – terminating stopping trains from London Paddington and their return workings, alternating with Platform 6.

The first major blockade, over Christmas 2010 and into New Year 2011, had little obvious impact on the station itself and focused on bridge replacement to the west of the station. When the Great Western Railway was built Reading was a town of note and Jerome K. Jerome makes mention of the law courts decamping to Reading during London’s periodic medieval plagues. However, this was a town of note by early Victorian standards and it did not take long to get from the town centre to being back into fields again. Underbridges a few hundred yards from the station were built accordingly, mostly as cattle creeps. Several of these had ended up playing host to major roads, so the station was closed, the embankments dug out and new bridges installed.

There were then no advertised changes to the station for a year, but regular users may have noticed Things Going On – mostly on the Southern side.

When the South Eastern Railway arrived here from Charing Cross they built their own, low-level station – Reading Southern – alongside the GWR’s Reading General. One of British Rail’s bits of tidying-up was to move the Southern out of its station into General, but since nobody fancied laying the third rail installed for Waterloo commuter trains into Reading station proper the Southern trains got their own platforms – two of them, at the east end of platform 4, numbered 4a and 4b. Normally “a” and “b” suffixes are used to divide existing platforms in half, not to create two new platforms without bothering to renumber the rest of the station.

The 1970s platforms had two operational problems, both clearly visible in this picture:

Reading 8 JPGThe first is that the Southern trains barely fitted into their own platforms and the second is that for trains to get in and out of the platforms they had to pass over a fragment of single track. Despite it only being a fragment, it prevented a train from entering the station while another was leaving. This is quite an important skill when dealing with a two-platform terminus used by two routes (Reading to Waterloo and Reading to Gatwick) which have a half-hourly service throughout the day and additional trains in the peaks. So over Christmas 2011 a third Southern platform was brought into use, combined with a new track layout which allowed trains to enter and leave the station at the same time (so long as they weren’t crossing each other’s paths, of course). The two existing platforms were then removed and replaced with longer and more permanent platforms, creating a 12-car 3-platform terminus stretching out alongside the GWR station throat.

Reading 19 JPGThis also provided a handy opportunity, once the work was complete, to see what the rest of the station is going to look like – a bit flat and emotionless, but very modern.

At the same time the Down Relief bay platform, No. 7, was taken out of use. This created the possibility of a station with platforms 1-4, 4a-c, 5-6 and 8-10, which is a bit ridiculous so a renumbering scheme commenced – taking into account that the next stage of the project would be to add another four platforms.

  • Platforms 1-3 – no change.
  • Platform 4 – now platform 7.
  • Platforms 4a and b – now platforms 5 and 6.
  • New Southern platform – platform 4.
  • Platform 5 – now platform 8.
  • Platform 6 – now platform 16 (pending abolition).
  • Platform 7 – taken out of use and infilled.
  • Platforms 8-10 – now platforms 9-11.
  • Additional relief line platforms – to become platforms 12-15.

Reading 9 JPGThis was all helpfully explained by the above poster.

Old platform 7’s loss was keenly felt operationally – Cross Country trains which had reversed there on the way between the North of England and the South Coast now blocked new platforms 9 or 10 for 8 minutes. However, its elimination allowed the construction of the staircases for the new “transfer deck” – the huge 30 metre (100 foot) wide footbridge that is to link all these platforms together.

Passengers returning in the New Year 2012 found that according to the departure screens the Down Main now seemed to be handling Waterloo trains and the Down Relief Bay had acquired an intensive stream of Intercity trains. They also found that the new platform 10 was somewhat inferior to the old platform 9, since it had been extended out with a large curved temporary platform onto the space for the through line and in the process had lost its awning. The awning and associated buildings were then swiftly demolished.

Anyone on new platform 9 stood sniggering at the unfortunate and wet commuters on platform 10 was soon shut up when most of platform 9’s awning vanished too, along with those on 8 and 7. This was followed by the awning around platform 16 and then, for no very obvious reason, that covering 1 and 2. By the end of 2012 all that remained of the station’s shabby green awnings was a patch around the waiting room and footbridge on platforms 8 and 9 plus two lengths on platform 7 – one outside the original station building and one at the Down end shared with platform 3. 4-6 and bits of 8 and 9 had been equipped with the new awnings – strange blue things which do seem to keep the rain out. The remaining platforms had bits of corrugated plastic or, failing that, wet passengers.

Meanwhile work proceeded apace on platforms 12-15.

Reading 10 JPGReading station’s new platforms under construction in March 2012 from the footbridge connecting the station to the car park. The huge concrete foundation is for the north end of the new footbridge (except, footbridge being a rather passé term, it’s called a “transfer deck”) plus associated offices and booking hall. 

Reading 11 JPGA similar view from the same footbridge 11 months later, showing the new awnings on the virtually completed platforms. Part of platform 10’s new awning is being swung into place. The car park to station section of the footbridge had a support resting on the island platform in the foreground; to allow finishing works to the platform the support had to go so this half of the footbridge was taken out of use within a week of this picture being taken. The concrete foundation now has a booking hall on it.

The new footbridge was built by putting half of it together over the new platforms (where bits could be dropped without upsetting passing trains) then sliding it out over the supports to the new south staircase, after which the gap over the new platforms was filled by building the other half. In May 2012, this resulted in scenes like this:

Reading 12 JPGWhich by August 2012 had become scenes like this:

Reading 13 JPGIn April 2009 one could still catch a train from bay platform 7:

Reading 14 JPGBut by January 2013 that steam-age innocence view had turned into this scene:

Reading 15 JPGThe new bridge is being fitted out with considerable speed, which is good because it opens on Easter Tuesday (although for the duration of the Easter week the old through platforms will be shut and all trains will use the four new platforms and the south-side bays).

With 9 days to go, the current relief line side of the station looked like this:

Reading 16 JPGOne rather obvious improvement is that platform 10, to the right, now has a decent awning again. However, a peculiarity of the station roof design is that the awnings go up over the footbridge, which seems to have been designed for electrification to a Continental loading gauge. As a consequence there are parts of the platform where the awnings look a bit likely to be more decorative than protective, but with the spaces between awnings for the running lines being fairly tight it should not be an overwhelmingly serious problem.

Platform 7’s new awning is not yet in position; the current Down Main is awaiting a rebuild to move it out another 10 feet or so to face the current Up Through, after which it will be possible to install the awning.

The actual block

The block will be a rather untidy affair. The station’s through platforms will be closed outright from the early hours of Good Friday, the 29th of March, until the early hours of Easter Tuesday, the 2nd of April. During this time there will be a largely clockface timetable from Reading platforms 1 and 2 to Basingstoke on one hand (connecting with West of England trains) and Newbury, Bedwyn, Pewsey and Westbury (also connecting with West of England trains) on the other. Pewsey will be losing its (probably unique) accolade of being served solely by IC125 sets for the duration of the blockade.

Gatwick Airport and London Waterloo services will run largely as normal from platforms 4 and 5, providing Reading’s only through service to London.

Stopping services to Didcot and Maidenhead will be replaced by buses, although the branch from Twyford to Henley-on-Thames will be running broadly normally. Maidenhead to Slough will have train services and then buses will run to Hayes and Harlington to connect with onward rail services into Paddington.

North Cotswold trains from Hereford and Worcester and South Cotswold trains from Cheltenham and Gloucester will terminate at Didcot Parkway, with connections into London trains at Oxford and Reading respectively.

South Wales and Bristol trains will run at a modified frequency – hourly predominantly – to modified timings (e.g. the 0358 Saturday service from Swansea to London Paddington will depart at 0330 on the 30th of March). After Swindon they will call at Oxford and then run up to Banbury, reverse and head down the Great Western’s North Mainline into London Paddington. Certain trains will serve both South Wales and Bristol.

West of England trains will be diverted onto the London and South Western Railway between Salisbury and London Waterloo, calling additionally at Basingstoke in place of Reading.

Once the first phase of the block comes off Tuesday 2nd to Saturday 6th April will be spent running trains through the new side of Reading station, with platforms 7-11 out of use. Certain retimings will still be in force – e.g. the 0730 Paddington to Penzance via Bristol Temple Meads service will depart Paddington at 0718, but will still convey a Travelling Chef and pick up its booked path around Swindon.

Without platforms 7-11 there will be no direct route between London Paddington and Newbury. West of England trains booked to call at both places, such as the 1703 Paddington to Paignton, will have outrageously long journey times between the stations at Reading (depart 1738) and Reading West (depart 1755), which are normally about three minutes apart on a conservative schedule. Trains may take some convoluted routes in the process.

Then the block will come on again on Sunday 7th April, for one day only. Much the same arrangements will be in force as for the Easter weekend, except platforms 1 and 2 will also be shut so Basingstoke trains will be replaced by buses and trains from Newbury, Bedwyn and Westbury will terminate at Theale to connect into buses to Reading.

Full timetables, with only mildly inaccurate grey and pink covers, are available from major Western Region stations. Passengers are advised to check specific journey arrangements on the National Rail Enquiries website to be sure of picking up any last minute alterations or convoluted timetable features, particularly on Thames Valley suburban services.

The New Station

After Easter, platforms will usually be served as follows (with some variation as platforms 7 to 10 are periodically closed and completely rebuilt):

  • Platform 1: Terminating stopping trains to and from Newbury and Bedwyn (west end bay);
  • Platform 2: Terminating stopping trains to and from Basingstoke (west end bay);
  • Platform 3: Out of use – new track layout will make it inaccessible from Oxford, so not much use to Cross Country anyway;
  • Platforms 4-6: suburban services from London Waterloo and most of the services from Guildford, Redhill and Gatwick Airport. Still the only electrified platforms in the station;
  • Platform 7: Down Westbury – all fast trains from London Paddington to Bedwyn, Westbury, Exeter, Paignton, Plymouth and Penzance  (except those running via Bristol Temple Meads);
  • Up Through:  Abolished, pending conversion into platform 7.
  • Platform 8: Up Westbury – majority of fast trains to London Paddington returning from the destinations listed under 7;
  • Platform 9: Down Main –  all fast trains from London Paddington to Bristol, South Wales, Oxford, Banbury, Worcester, Hereford and Gloucester/ Cheltenham;
  • Platform 10: Up Main – all fast trains from London Paddington returning from the destinations listed under 9;
  • Platform 11: Out of use – once the current footbridge has been demolished the track will be extended around the back of platform 10 to form a new through platform, the Up Main Loop;
  • Platform 12: Down Relief – stopping trains to Didcot and Oxford;
  • Platform 13: Down Relief Loop – likely to be predominantly used as a pair of bay platforms which conveniently don’t have a bufferstop in the middle. London end to be used by terminating stopping trains from London Paddington; Bristol end for use by terminating Cross Country trains;
  • Platform 14: Up Relief Loop – also likely to be predominantly used as a pair of bay platforms which conveniently don’t have a bufferstop in the middle. London end to be used by terminating stopping trains from London Paddington; Bristol end for use by terminating Cross Country trains;
  • Platform 15: Up Relief – stopping trains from Didcot and Oxford, with easy access onto a new underpass allowing platforms 13-15 to be used by Gatwick trains passing under the station throat to join the Southern lines.

Platforms 12-15 will be divided into “a” and “b” ends – “a” for London and “b” for Bristol – in a more traditional manner than Reading’s old 4a and 4b which existed entirely separately to platform 4. (Exactly what Cross Country passengers made of the old set-up when they’d just come in from Birmingham New Street, which says – for example – “platform 2a” if the train occupies half of platform 2 and “platform 2” if it occupies all of platform 2, is not wholly clear.)

Cross Country’s South Coast trains will not be using 13 and 14 for a bit, since those platforms have no access to the line towards Westbury and Basingstoke. They will still be reversing in 9 and 10.

Access will be by the new footbridge, but the current 1989 main booking hall will remain in use. With the 1989 footbridge removed, the route from the booking hall onto platforms 4-7 will be a lot more open and spacious. The old footbridge featured a barrier down the middle to separate passengers who had come up the stairs from the platforms from those who were passing through the station from the car park to the town centre or who had come up in the lifts. (The fact that fare-dodging at Reading was as simple as using the lift rather than the stairs never seems to have dawned on the person tasked with designing the ticket barrier layout.)

Reading 18 JPGInside the old footbridge, soon to be demolished, with its largely grey colour scheme offset by Network SouthEast red light fittings. The green TV display screens are leftovers from the days of Great Western Trains (1996-98). The panels separate the staircases and escalators to the platforms (this side) from the lifts and the ticket-free walking route (other side). When the footbridge extension to the car park was removed, the panels swiftly went too and the footbridge became much nicer and wider. Car park access and passage across the station without buying a ticket is now by means of a refurbished subway beneath the new footbridge. 

Once that’s all over platforms 1 and 2 might get their canopies back.

Reading 17 JPGThe two platforms which have not really featured in this story, since not much is being done with them – platform 1 to the left for Newbury & Bedwyn and platform 2 to the right for Basingstoke. They now sit in the shadow of the southern stairway onto the new footbridge; their presence precludes providing platform 7 with the double-access from the new footbridge which the other through platforms are all getting.

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