Saint-Étienne – Lyon line: a perfectly timed operation in the rive-de-gier railway station
30 March 2016, 7.47 am in the station of Saint-Étienne Chateaucreux…
As is the case every morning, Marie is waiting at 7.50 am for the TER Regional Express train to Lyon Perrache to go to work. It takes 46 minutes to get to her destination and during this time she watches the countryside go by. Over the last few weeks major renovation works have been conducted in Rive-de-Gier, about 15 minutes away from Saint-Étienne. Like the thousands of other local commuters who take the same daily route to work to Lyon, Marie has noticed enormous machines along the train tracks and has wondered what they could possibly be used for.
At the same time, about 20 kilometres away
Philippe Bosc, Director of Operations at SNCF Réseau, is finishing his day of work. His day? Actually, his night, as for the second time this week, he has supervised the replacement of switching equipment in the Rive-de-Gier railway station. It is the end of March and it is still cold. But through the breath coming out of his mouth, it is possible make out a smile of satisfaction.
"The railway system in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region has 3,800 km of train tracks. It is essential to ensure proper maintenance and to regularly renew the switches and crossings. There have been many works on the Saint-Étienne – Lyon line since 2003. We first renewed the railway lines between Saint-Étienne and Trèves, and then between Trèves and Givors. This required not only the replacement of switches and crossings but also the renewal of the ballast. It is important not to forget that the Lyon – Saint-Étienne line is still today the regional route with the highest number of passengers, even though this line dates back to the first half of the 19th century! The renewal of the switching equipment in Rive-de-Gier followed the replacement of 11 switches and crossings in the Saint-Étienne Chateaucreux station between January and March."
The railway system in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region has 3,800 km of tracks. It is essential to ensure proper maintenance for this network and to regularly renew the switches and crossings.
A “race against the clock” worksite
Marie’s TER train has just arrived in the station at the scheduled time, and she is rested and ready for another day of work!
Philippe Bosc, on the other hand, is breathing a sigh of relief. "The project in Rive-de-Gier is a real race against the clock! We need approximately 8 hours for the replacement of a railway switch, from the disassembly to the stabilisation and finally to returning it to active service."
After two nights of work, the switches for the two railway lines were replaced.
"An outside company - La Dijonnaise de Voie Ferrée – won the contract following a tender process. SNCF Réseau is responsible for managing the works. In my capacity as the Director of Operations for the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, I therefore supervised all the operations and procedures."
The replacement of a railway switch, from the disassembly to the stabilisation and finally to returning it to active service, requires approximately 8 hours of work and costs 400,000 Euros.
The challenge is to meet the time constraints within the work schedule, and to work with precision, while also operating complex machinery. Philippe Bosc stresses that "the replacement of railway switches is a combination of general structural work and extreme precision. During the works conducted in 2016 between Saint-Étienne and Rive-de-Gier, among other types of equipment, we used a hydraulic excavator for the handling and loading of materials, a heavy-duty ballast tamping machine to compress the ballast and a compactor to level the ground and to make it less permeable."
There were several stages in the renewal works of the switches and crossings in the railway station of Rive-de-Gier:
- interruption of the worksite lines to be able to work alternatively on one line and then on the other;
- installation of the lighting system and preparation of the works;
- disassembly and removal of the existing switches and crossings;
- ballast removal: the worn out ballast is removed;
- creation of the base layer;
- installation of the new switches and crossings;
- ballasting: new ballast placement (a bed of stones or gravel on which the train tracks lie);
- tamping: the ballast is packed and the ground is levelled;
- train tracks are returned to active service.
10 key stages in a race against the clock, so that normal train service can resume without the slightest interruption the following morning.
Welcome to a strategic route on the railway system
And, as planned, train traffic has resumed its normal operations this Wednesday 30 March 2016. After travelling past the railway station in Rive-de-Gier, Marie arrives at Lyon Perrache just a few minutes after the usual time. A very slight delay due to the mandatory speed reduction of trains passing through an area in which a new switch has been installed. "We worked in on a rotational basis on the two train tracks before Rive-de-Gier", says Philippe Bosc. "On one track during the first night, then on the other track the following night. In this way, even though the trains had to slow down in the area of the just completed works, normal train traffic was not interrupted."
In the Rive-de-Gier area, about thirty staff were mobilised for the renewal of the railway switches. Our aim was to not disrupt traffic.
Quite a challenge indeed, as every day 18,000 passengers and 135 trains transit along the Saint-Étienne – Lyon route in both directions. "The aim of SNCF Réseau was not only to ensure the maintenance and performance of the railway network, but also to optimise the safety and comfort of the passengers as part of the Vigirail programme.", concludes Philippe Bosc.
Simply seeing the relaxed look on Marie’s face on her way to work is proof enough – mission (successfully) accomplished!
The modernisation and renewal of the French railway network is a priority for SNCF Réseau. For this reason, the national "Vigirail" programme was launched in October 2013. Its aim is to improve the safety of railway switches and to modernise the maintenance of the railway lines. The Vigirail Plan has been allocated a budget of 410 million Euros over 4 years. At a national level, this will enable the replacement of 1,200 switches between 2014 and 2017. In the Rhône-Alpes-Auvergne region alone, the number of switches replaced increased from 35 in 2015 to 160 in 2016.
A well-deserved end of the day … but work carries on for SNCF Réseau
It is 5.54 pm at the Lyon Part-Dieu railway station.
The TER train direct to Saint-Étienne Chateaucreux is entering the station.
Although Marie is getting ready to go home, the railway operations for SNCF Réseau are not taking any breaks! Between January and March 2016, 2 km of train tracks were completely replaced between Saint-Étienne et Rive-de-Gier, and 1 km of track was raised several dozen centimetres by a railway device known as a "tamping machine". Thanks to this equipment, the train track is stabilised and positioned at the correct height. "Even though the renewal of the switches has been completed in the Rive-de-Gier station, there is still work to do!", points out Philippe Bosc. The following operations must now be performed: ground levelling so that trains do not have uphill or downhill slopes that are too strong, thermite welding to weld together the tracks and additional levelling work. In short - various finishing works!"
Employees from SNCF Réseau and La Dijonnaise de Voie Ferrée were mobilised for all these operations until 9 April.
In all, the renewal of 13 switches in the railway stations of Saint-Étienne Chateaucreux and Rive-de-Gier required the following resources:
- more than 50 persons working at the same time;
- 3,900 metres of train tracks
- 3,200 railway sleepers;
- 5,800 tonnes of ballast;
- a budget of €6.78 m, 100 % financed by SNCF Réseau.
"It was a big and difficult project as we had to work during the night in the middle of winter", says Philippe Bosc. "But we have about 10 projects like this one every year!" For example, in a few weeks the Director of Operations will be supervising the renewal of 34 switches and crossings in the Lyon Perrache railway station, this time for the Paris-Lyon-Marseille line. Other major works are planned for 2018 in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes regional network:
- Givors – Peyraud (€90 m) in 2017;
- Saint-André-le-Gaz – Chambéry (€60 m) in the summer of 2018;
- Valence – Moirans (€95 m) in 2018;
- Axe Lyon – Grenoble in 2018.
All these works are a guarantee for millions of persons like Marie, who use the railway system every day, that they can travel in optimal safety and comfort.