Described by Network Rail as Wales’ largest congestion-busting scheme, it has the potential provide hundreds of extra rush-hour seats each day on rail services on the Cardiff and Valleys’ network by 2015.
The work will be delivered in five stages, starting with the Vale of Glamorgan line.
The three-year programme will mobilise hundreds of railway workers to replace more than 300 signals, 12 miles of track, 59 sets of points and build seven additional platforms across the Cardiff and Valleys’ rail network, including at Barry, Caerphilly, Pontypridd and Tir-Phil stations.
The scheme will remove the rail bottleneck between Cardiff Central and Queen Street, allowing 16 passenger trains per hour to run through the area – a 25% increase. The extra capacity will also allow more freight trains to run through Cardiff helping to support businesses in their transport of goods to and from Wales.
Cardiff Central (south side) and Cardiff Queen Street will also see new entrance buildings and facilities to improve passengers’ travel experience. These stations account for 67% of all passenger demand on the South Wales Valleys’ network and cater for almost 12.5m passengers every year.
The work is a first step towards electrifying the Valleys’ network. The recent decision to fund the electrification of the network was based on a business case that offered the increased capacity that these improvements provide.
A new station will also be built to serve the growing community at Energlyn.
Under a pair of contracts together worth £64m, Atkins will design, manage and implement the replacement of life-expired signalling and associated power and distribution equipment across 192 route miles of track between Newport and Port Talbot, covering the Vale of Glamorgan and Valleys areas.
Network Rail Wales route managing director Mark Langman said: “On a network as busy as ours, this work is the equivalent of conducting open heart surgery on the railway whilst keeping daily services running with the minimum of disruption”.
To minimise disruption, the work will be mostly carried out at night when trains are not running. Innovations include the use of lightweight signals to reduce installation time as well as saving money.
Atkins' chief executive officer Prof Dr Uwe Krueger said: “We understand the engineering challenges a project of this nature poses and have mobilised the resources to provide the multidiscipline teams needed to overcome them."