Career story: Chris Montgomery, Network Rail Birmingham New St project director

The overhaul of Birmingham New Street is already a huge success with the public. Chris Montgomery can enjoy the accolades after years of hard work rebuilding the station while that same public walked through his site.

How does the new development prepare Birmingham for future growth?

The 1960s station was built to accommodate 60,000 passengers per day.  When the project started we had an average of 140,000 passengers using the station every day and that had grown to over 170,000 by the time the station opened on 20 September 2015.  It has been built to accommodate up to 300,000 passengers per day.

How complex was it to rebuild the station and keep it operational?

It has been an incredibly complex build whilst keeping the station open and the 170,000 passengers safe who use it every day.  We built the first part of the project in the adjacent carpark where we removed a whole floor to create part of the new station.  This meant taking out tonnes of concrete over a live railway. 

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Once the concrete was safely removed we began to construct the new concourse and in April 2013 we closed the old station and passengers moved into the new station the next morning.

We then began phase two which was the really tough part.  We had to strip out a 1960s structure, add an atrium roof and then remove nearly 10,000 tonnes of concrete to create an atrium space the size of a football pitch all over a live operational railway and busy station.

Retail is a huge aspect of the scheme. How complex was it to create a station that has mixed uses?

Not such an issue, although the requirements of the various retailers were difficult to accommodate when the retailers were actually signed up at a relatively late stage. For example retailers wanting lifts in their units which need lift pits, which in turn penetrate the space below.

Managing the stakeholders must have been a challenge. What were the key issues and how did you manage them? 

Managing our neighbours was a key issue. As the site has a city centre location it is surrounded by hotels. Much of the work had to be undertaken out of normal working hours as a result of the need to keep areas open to the public. This in turn meant night work had to be co-ordinated very closely with all the adjacent hotels and residents to keep construction noise to acceptable levels.

What were the biggest challenges for Network Rail in getting to this point?

The biggest challenge was creating the new station and shopping centre from a 1960’s built structure which was designed to different building codes, had very little as built information and was built to 1960’s quality standards. The project involved cutting out over 20,000 tonnes of concrete in holes the size of a football pitch, adding a dome on top and a façade around the outside which acts as a sail to catch the wind. All of this had to be done against assumptions on how the structure worked which all ad to be verified as areas were opened up.

What lessons can future railway stations learn from Birmingham in terms of planning, design and construction?

If possible close the station down and build in an environment which does not include having to cater for the public passing through every day

Remove as many incumbents from the station as possible

Take apart the fabric of the building to allow detailed surveys of the building to take place from the outset

Build great relationships with neighbours and funders

Understand that the site is an operational railway first, and a construction site second.

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