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Wokingham Station Access Project

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Wokingham Borough Council had a vision to develop the local infrastructure around the station in the centre of this historic Berkshire town, so undertook a number of studies and a public consultation.  Then in late 2013 it was concluded that improved access was needed to reduce the impact of several pinch points and subsequently contracted R&W Civil Engineering, with Balfour Beatty Living Homes acting as the main contractor, to develop and deliver the resulting £1.8m / 18-month long transformation scheme.

Designed to coincide with the refurbishment of the mainline rail station, the overriding objective was to improve traffic flow within the town, especially at the Barkham Road level crossing.  Other requirements included improvement to pedestrian, cycle and bus access in the area; to improve highway and rail safety at the level crossing; plus reduce the local environmental impact of queuing traffic on Station Road, Barkham Road, Wellington Road and Shute End including improving air quality.

A primary requirement throughout the project was to retain access to the station from all routes, as well as maintaining unrestricted traffic flow to all parts of the local area. The level crossing alongside the station and a low bridge in the vicinity also meant that implementing a one-way system for the duration of the scheme was never an option. The solution devised and implemented by R&W involved a pro-active and hands on traffic management scheme that necessitated a team of ‘gatemen’ to monitor and provide constant access to all vehicles and keep everything moving.

The 18 month long project subsequently commenced in late 2013 and was divided into four key phases. This would ultimately result in several of the existing roads being realigned and significantly widened and new one and two-way access being implemented. Major changes to various junctions were also needed to help improve traffic flow and new traffic signals at various points throughout the scheme were added.  The initial phase was to implement access changes in and around Link Road and the construction of 180m of new road. This necessitated R&W demolishing three houses plus the safe removal of three potentially dangerous but obsolete fuel tanks from a long disused nearby petrol station and reconstituting the land to that it remained stable and could be built upon.

Historic records were also sketchy in places so extra care was needed during the next couple of phases.

Many of the utility services including gas, electricity and phone lines that crisscross the area had to be located and subsequently repositioned. Reading Road was widened and new signage added. The Barkham Road was both widened and upgraded while the junction on Shute End was widened, upgraded and new signalling installed. Further changes were also made to Station Road and Wellington Road which were again widened, upgraded and new signals and street furniture added.

Properly planned and professionally implemented Traffic Management was the constant in all phases of the project . More general scope of work included: extensive site clearance, working on the necessary drainage and service ducts; various earthworks and excavations across the site and the relocation of numerous existing elements including the installation of sub base material and surfacing for the roads and pavements. Numerous kerbs had to be moved, replaced or established; there were upgrades and renewal to brick work, block work and stone work across the site; plus all the electrical work, including the provision of all ducting and pitting works for the road lighting and traffic signs. This was also all done to remain sympathetic to the local ecology including final landscaping of the site.

“Proactive Traffic Management throughout all phases of the scheme was vital otherwise the whole area would have be constantly gridlocked,” explained R&W’s Paul Johnstone, Contracts Manger for the improvement scheme.  “The Barkham Road level crossing alongside the station, and the low bridge to the south, close to the Tesco superstore and Molly Millers Lane commercial area effectivly cut the town in two. What’s more the Borough Council offices are located just beyond the main areas of development and the local hospital is only a stones throw away in the other direction so we were under constant scrutiny – but that’s to be expected on any project like this.”

Throughout all phases of the scheme as much work as possible was restricted to 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday with some activities being implemented between 8am to 1pm on Saturdays in order to minimise disruption and effectively manage noise. To this end, the programme was developed to allow ‘quiet’ works to be undertaken at the beginning and end of each shift to maintain programme tempo whilst minimising disruption. The R&W site team were reminded of the restrictions and daily programme at the start-of-shift briefings with regular updates being provided.

During the initial phases no Sunday or bank holiday working was scheduled although on several occasions during the later phases it became absolutely vital to implement key changes during these times as it helped minimise overall long term disruption to the area and this was only implemented with prior approval.

“This was a complex and challenging project for a host of reasons,” explained Keith Baker, executive member for strategic planning and highways at Wokingham Borough Council. “However, the end result means we have significantly improved road access in and around the town centre and this has been well received by local residents and other related parties. Disruption was kept to an absolute minimum throughout the scheme and based on the success of this project R&W subsequently delivered three further major schemes to improve traffic flow, provide safer cycle ways and enhance the general locality.”

Keith Baker continued: “Wokingham Station was the 400th station to benefit from the National Stations Improvement Programme and with funding from South West Trains, Network Rail, and the Council, we now have a bigger waiting area with more seating, a larger booking hall with improved ticket facilities, state-of-the-art passenger information screens, new toilets including wheelchair accessible facilities, plus a new café.”

In addition to the hard landscaping, the scheme also included significant complimentary ecology elements. For example, a key part of the link road infrastructure is a noise fence to reduce the impact of the new road on the general surroundings. Rather than specifying a standard noise fence, in consultation with R&W and Balfour Beatty Living Homes, the Council opted for a living willow structure along with its associated watering system to create an effective, natural and aesthetically pleasing solution. This new living willow noise fence extends along most of the link road on the eastern side and for a lesser distance on the western side. At a height of 2.5 metres, 120mm thick and almost 250m in total length, the woven willow panels are supplemented by species of climbing plants to screen it and were delivered to the site as pre-manufactured, sustainably grown panels and planted.

Community liaison was an integral element to ensure that residents and local businesses were kept informed throughout. A dedicated email was established along with a hotline and regular newsletters were prepared and distributed providing informative updates. Information and progress photographs were also uploaded to the Council’s Twitter (@WokinghamBC) and Facebook (Wokingham Borough Council) pages. The various stages of construction were also captured using a time-lapse camera and the footage put together as linear videos so that regular instalments could be viewed via the Council’s website and on social media.

www.wokingham.gov.uk/news/index/mar2014/stationlinkroad/

Several unexpected outcomes also resulted from the delivery of this project. Early on, R&W’s ‘Near Miss’ reporting system identified that members of its team delivering the traffic management element and the gatemen  in particular were constantly being subjected to unacceptable verbal abuse from passing motorists and pedestrians. The client approved solution was for R&W to issue the TM gatemen with body worn CCTV cameras which immediately diffused the situation as people were then aware that their abuse and unacceptable behaviour was being recorded.  As a direct result, this solution has been rolled out on other schemes and is now integrated into R&W’s standard operating procedures for traffic management teams working on difficult sites.

In another instance, the Traffic Management team took time out to assist an individual with severe learning difficulties. He had became fascinated by project and the machines being used, ultimately watching what was going on from just outside the site on a daily basis, however, when he suddenly stopped coming, the concerned site manager made enquiries and discovered he’d suffered a personal loss. The R&W team organised a collection, purchased personalised site clothing for him plus treated him to a visit to Diggerland – with the balance of the money raised, given to his carer to fund other such excursions.

The Subsequent projects undertaken and delivered by R&W for Wokingham Borough Council comprise of the £1.6m scheme to upgrade the Coppid Beech roundabout so that all approach roads were widened and an additional lane was added to the roundabout itself. There was also a £900k cycle path scheme alongside Lower Early Way and a geotechnical embankment repair scheme on Twyford Road valued at £750k.

The historic market town of Wokingham in Berkshire has a population of around 30,000 and is located a few miles south of J10 on the M4 and just off the M329.  The town was also named in the national Family Hotspot survey published in September 2015 as the best place to bring up children in the UK, thanks to a low crime rate, salaries more than £5,000 above the national average,  and excellent schools with 66.8 per cent of pupils beating the benchmark of five good GCSEs graded A* to C.

“We’ve been extremely busy in the Wokingham area over recent years and much of this is due to the fact that we clearly demonstrated that we could deliver the quality of the work required, professionally manage the project across all phases and utimately make a real difference. Concluded Paul Johnstone.  “The original Wokingham Station access improvement team have now all been assigned to different projects within R&W and are applying the knowledge and experience gained here elsewhere.”

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