A new state-of-the-art signalling centre that will control large parts of railway operations across Sussex has been formally opened

The Three Bridges Rail Operating Centre in Crawley, which was designed and constructed by Spencer Rail on behalf of Network Rail, is one of 12 centres which will eventually operate the entire rail network across Britain.

Crawley MP Henry Smith was joined by representatives from Network Rail, Spencer Rail, Southern Trains, First Capital Connect, and Crawley Borough Council to formally open the state-of-the-art rail operating centre on 07 January 2014.

Eventually the centre will control the Brighton main line, from London Victoria and London Bridge to Brighton and the south coast and large areas either side. 

Mr Smith said: “I’m proud that Crawley is the new home of rail control for much of south east England.

“Modernising the railway by making the signalling more efficient and reliable, in addition to integrating Network Rail’s control centre to work more closely with Southern to resolve delays more quickly, will really help to improve the passenger experience.

“This investment in Three Bridges represents a significant enhancement for the travelling public and a real boost to the local economy.”

The 12 new centres will replace more than 800 signal boxes and other operational locations currently used to control trains. 

Spencer Rail MD, Raj Sinha, said: “This is the UK’s most advanced signalling centre consisting of the most modern signalling tools and technology that will help reduce delays, increase capacity and provide better information to passengers. I am delighted that Network Rail gave us the opportunity to design and build this fantastic facility. The finished building is certainly something to behold and I am very proud of what my team has delivered. The final product is absolutely fantastic.”

Tim Robinson, Network Rail’s route managing director for Sussex, said: “This new rail operating centre, and the nearby new Thameslink depot currently under construction, means that Three Bridges will be one of the most important places on the railway map in the south east.

“When fully operational, it will help to boost performance, increase capacity and provide a better level of service to passengers during periods of disruption.

“As well as helping to create a better railway, it will also help boost the local economy as several hundred jobs will be relocated to the town, giving a vital boost for local shops and amenities.”

In 2006, Spencer Rail was contracted to build the first UK signalling control centre, eventually completing three of the facilities – East Midlands, West Scotland and Thames Valley. The company was later appointed to deliver the Three Bridges Rail Operating Centre – the first ‘Second Generation’ rail operating centre in the UK.

Eddie Hanson, Spencer Rail’s Operations Director, whose task was to deliver the Three Bridges project, gives an overview of what was involved and some facts and figures about this fantastic scheme:

“Spencer Rail was commissioned to deliver the project through GRIP stages 5 to 8 in August 2011 completing the fit out work programme on 13 October 2013.

“The centre was constructed on the site of the disused ‘Tilgate’ railway sidings at the end of William’s way behind Three Bridges Station.

“The project involved the clearance of the original Tilgate railway sidings followed by the construction of a new three story building which comprised of pile and ground beam substructure, steel superstructure, precast concrete floors and blast enhanced curtain walling with GRC cladding forming the external envelope.

“The building design incorporated blast mitigation features in line with Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure guidance.

“Architectural features include a full height three story glazed entrance atrium with corridor light well running the full length of the building.

“E&P Services included a multiple level electrical distribution system with UPS backup providing power redundancy to maximise system resilience for Signalling, ECO and route control systems.

“State of the art security systems were also incorporated to manage and maximise security of personnel in and around the facility.”

The project wasn’t without its challenges.

Eddie explains: “A major test for us was delivering the project within a tight and land locked site with only one point of access which was also restricted to 13ft under the Horsham line. Coordination with third party stakeholders including Balfour Beatty Maintenance and the contractors building the adjacent Thameslink Depot were also part of this logistical challenge having to use the same single access arrangement.

“In addition, the South elevation of the ROC site backed directly onto the local Waterlea playground. Major construction works in this immediate vicinity required close liaison with the local community and schools to raise safety awareness and promote good public relations.”

Innovation and value creation were at the heart of Spencer Rail’s approach.

Eddie continued: “Innovative technology incorporated a comprehensive redundant power distribution system providing maximum resilience for railway system reliability. Ground source heating and ‘termodec’ systems provided green technology to heat and cool to the building. Grey water harvesting capturing rain water for toilet systems and solar energy systems provided electricity and solar heating to reduce energy consumption.”

Spencer Rail’s capability coupled with the experience gained delivering the first generation ROCs, including the company’s contribution to the formal lessons learnt conducted by Network Rail in 2009 from which the Form A for the ROC was developed, gave the organisation a full appreciation and understanding of the client’s requirements thereby adding further value by way of experience and knowledge to help drive efficiencies.

On 15 January 2014, the Three Bridges project received high praise during Prime Minister’s Questions. Here is an extract:

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Conservative): Last week I had the honour of opening the new Network Rail regional operating centre at Three Bridges in my constituency.

The Prime Minister: My Hon. Friend, investing in infrastructure is a key part of our long term economic plan to make sure that Britain’s economy can be a success now and in the future.


The project in numbers

·         Project value: £21 million

·         Programme:104 weeks – October 2011 to October 2013 including fit out

·         Three Story Building measuring: 72m x 53m (footprint 2520m2).

·         Reinforced steel structure with precast concrete floors.

·         Overall square floor area 7560m2 comprising:

·       Ground Floor Equipment Room  – Signalling Equipment

·       First Floor – Signalling Control and ECO

·       Route Control and TOC’s Car parking facility for 110 vehicles

·       2No 11kV/ 33Kv power supplies, generator backed via UPS.

·       Ground source heating system

·       BREEAM ‘Very good’ energy rating.