Civil Engineer and Senior Project Office, working for Volker Fitzpatrick
The Volker Fitzpatrick site, just off the Howlett Way/High Road roundabout, under construction. February 2018.
It is difficult to conceive of a Trimley St. Martin resident who is unaware of the rail works which have been part of our lives for the last eighteen months. The first visual intimation work was about to commence was in February 2018 when men with heavy machinery could be seen working on the land next to the recently completed Cavendish Grove. Fences were erected, holes were dug, hard standing was laid and sophisticated portacabins sprang up. People in high viz jackets could be seen coming and going, alongside works transport. The village had been forewarned about the work in November 2016 when Network Rail gave a presentation of the changes, which included notification of the closure of all the pedestrian crossing, new barriers and the installation of a new bridge to replace the Bridleway at the St. Martin’s Crossing at the end of Gun Lan.
The Railway between Felixstowe and Ipswich was opened in 1877 and for many years was adequate for the trains transporting goods to the Docks. Time moves on and as freight and Felixstowe Port expanded, it became harder for the line to cope with twentieth and twenty first century demands. Inevitably, the necessity to expand capacity became obvious and was anticipated well before the end of the last century. Dan Smith, the Senior Project Officer at Volker Fitzpatrick told me the current project may be dated back to at least 2005 when Network Rail obtained a Transport of Works Order, thereby enabling their powers to acquire land. The public had already been informed but there was a significant presentation to Villagers in 2008. The aim of the scheme, called the Felixstowe Capacity Enhancement project was to double the track from Felixstowe through to Levington, although in the event the entire project is much smaller than was originally intended. The dualling of the track has now been completed and there will be an increase in freight. Back in 2008 it was estimated at about ten additional trains in each direction a day. I believed this was about forty but the Trimley train and transport expert Bryan Frost tells me the number of additional trains which may eventually run is around twelve to fourteen, or twenty four to twenty eight if both directions are counted. With existing rail traffic the figures approach about a hundred a day rather than forty.
The dualling of the track has been curtailed although you may see a trackside view of Levington Bridge demonstrates its ability to accommodate two tracks, although only one is extant.
View of Levington Bridge from the track. Courtesy of Dan Smith
I met Dan last week, when he took time out of his busy schedule in order to answer some of the many questions I wanted to ask. What follows is a summation of our conversation, with additional information from other sources which you may access at the end of this article. He currently works for Volker Fitzpatrick but there are other arms to the Volker Company. Volker Fitzpatrick Civils have done much of the work in East Anglian work and other arms of the Volker company include Volker Stevins, who were involved in the Ipswich Tidal Barrier, Volker Wessels who have just completed Berth 9 in Felixstowe Docks and Volker Rail who are responsible for signalling works.
Work on the footpaths and crossings
Although not part of the major construction work, I believe all Trimley residents will be aware of the pedestrian crossing closures. Thorpe Common, next to Goslings, Grimston Lane Crossing, next to 38 Grimston Lane, Trimley Crossing which could be accessed via the lower part of Grimston Lane and led to the large field opposite the Hand in Hand and St Martin’s Crossing at the end of Gun Lane. In addition, of course, there is Keeper’s Lane Crossing in Trimley St. Mary. These are now permanently closed and the white gates are being removed. The pedestrian crossing in Grimston Lane was permanently closed earlier this year and the thousand year old route from the High Road to Grimston Hall, once called Lower Street, was severed in two, despite the fighting actions of my predecessor, Rosemary Gitsham and others. At the risk of sounding overly sentimental, which I am not, the sound of the gate opening and closing with a thump and a click on the Grimston Lane Crossing is now a sound removed forever. We are usually conscious of visual absences but auditory ones are so subtle, their loss is barely noted.
For the last couple of months or so, Trimley residents have been affected by the work being completed on the level crossings. The work on the Thorpe Lane level crossing was due to finish two or three days after I met Dan and the re-opening was imminent. The old half barrier had been removed and replaced with a full barrier. The new signage was already in position with the distances to the barrier exactly stated and earlier on the same day I had noticed a sign saying,
standing at from the corner of Thorpe and Grimston Lane. Dan explained to me all the alterations to signage had been signed off by the Secretary of State and that Highways Standards are very exact. Hence, the precise statement relating to the distance to the barriers. The completion of the work on the barrier has now finished and indeed, the Thorpe Lane crossing was re-opened late on Sunday 16th June, although originally scheduled for Monday 17th. It is now the only access point to Thorpe Lane and the lower part of Grimston Lane. Those affected by the crossing work and who live on the river side of Grimston have been subjected to motor convoys across fields, whilst dog walkers have been on circuitous routes away from their usual tracks. A brisk dash in a car to and from the crossing to Grimston Hall would normally take about two minutes. For the last three or four weeks the round trip has taken about fifteen to twenty minutes and has required thought before action for all those who have to take this route. The same applied to those living on the river side section of Morston Hall Lane for three weeks in the first part of May, who had to reach their destination via Grimston Lane.
However, this is now all behind us and given the complexity of the whole project, it is impressive to see work completed on time. Good organisation and a focused workforce have ensured this was the case. I was interested to know just how many people had been involved. Dan told me that over the last Bank Holiday weekend, a workforce of over six hundred undertook the completion of the railway work. Not all of the workforce were employed at the same time; each of the three shifts involved two hundred people. Did any of them live locally, I asked? Not many, came the reply, perhaps two.
The huge bulk of the workforce had to be housed locally, although not in the village and this has involved more or less the complete occupation of the large hotels in Ipswich and Felixstowe, including the Holiday Inn at Copdock and the Premier Inns in Felixstowe and Ipswich. Dan said there are two things which unite all the personnel who are mostly, if not exclusively, male. One commonality they all share is a pass to work on the railway. The other is they all have partners who are annoyed by their absence. Certainly, I received the impression the hours are long, unsocial and involve travelling significant distances home. As well as safety, the workforce have to adhere to company rules regarding courtesy and consideration. The consumption of alcohol is completely forbidden. Ignoring the rules concerning alcohol can lead to instant dismissal and the retraction of the Network Rail card. The implications of this are obvious as the Card is an essential component of working on the railway. Random tests are conducted to ensure compliance.
The company have feed into community liaison and examples of their involvement have included providing fencing in Keeper’s Lane and helping to create a garden. They have responded to contact from the Chair or Clerk of the Parish Council by lowering lights and strimmed footpaths.
Gun Lane Bridleway Bridge
The expressed aim of Volker Fitzpatrick is always to create minimum noise, although pile driving is the exception to the rule and unfortunately it has to be done at night. The reason for this revolves around the need to keep freight activities rolling. Certainly, the evidence on Facebook suggests those living closest to the railway have been affected. Dan told me the company is aware of the disturbance the night work causes and the best options are always considered. The Hammer has to be deployed but the company tries to minimise usage. The good news is that this work, involving the bridge, is now complete. The most obvious manifestation of all this work by Volker Fitzpatrick is arguably the Gun Lane Bridge. This construction replaces the old St. Martin’s crossing, which you may recall it looked like this:
St. Martin’s Crossing, 26th June 2017. (Now closed and removed.)
Work began in Autumn 2018 when the heavy machinery moved to the end of Gun Lane and started work on the new and somewhat controversial, Bridleway Bridge. Trees were cut down to allow space to accommodate the new dual railway line, piles of sawdust accumulated and the buzz of an industrial strength saw filled the airways.
View towards the old Gun Lane Crossing from Gun Lane., 25th September 2018.
At the start of this year, 2019, a fresh temporary compound or enclosure had been fenced off at the end of Gun Lane and work began on the Bridge construction:
First stages in the construction of The Bridge, on the Gun Lane side of the railway. 20th January 2019. One of the old signs for the former St. Martin’s Crossing lies discarded in the foreground.
Since then the site has witnessed many people using hammers, pile drivers and other heavy equipment. Initially, the clearing of the trees allowed a rare, unimpeded glimpse of the two churches. It will be some decades or more probably centuries before Trimley residents see the twin towers of Trimley so completely from this angle again and I suspect by then, there will be other hinderances to the sight lines.
View of the nascent Bridge and the two churches taken near Flory’s Farm, Grimston Lane. 11th February 2019
This view has now more or less disappeared, swallowed up by the mighty bulk of the Bridge as it zig zags across the sky.
View of the Bridge taken near Flory’s Farm, Grimston Lane. 18th June 2019
The finalisation of the project is firmly in sight and the unofficial opening is likely to occur at the start of July.
The Bridge. Construction is almost complete. 18th June 2019. From the Grimston Hall side of the railway track.
Dan told me the whole project will be finished and ready for an official opening by the end of July, although some finishing touches remain to be completed. Unofficially, it is likely to open at the start of July. There will be mounting blocks for horse riders at the bottom of the ramps and in truth, the entire Bridleway has been built to conform to the Horse Society’s specifications. As yet, most horse riders in Trimley have expressed reservations about the crossing and are likely to demure from using it. Although the Bridge doesn’t display the highest of aesthetic design sensibilities, I respect the workforce and the engineering aspect of the construction which has been well managed and executed. The design was not created by Volker Fitzpatrick and is replicated on other railway lines. Should you high tail it to London at any time, look out of the window at Marks Tey and you may see a blue sibling of the Bridge; there is another green one at Thurston in West Suffolk on the Cambridge line.
For the sleep deprived trackside residents, the end is in sight. At the end of July, when the Bridge has been both unofficially and officially opened, Volker Fitzpatrick will start moving out. Dan explained how the Volker compound on the High Road will be dismantled; the hard surface removed as easily as replacing an old carpet and new top soil will help return the land to its natural state, unless the Landowners desire otherwise. Portacabins will move on to a different, unknown site. There will be a slight increase in traffic taking everything away and then, it will be as if Volker Fitzpatrick had never been here. The footpath across the field should be re-instated and the high viz jackets will temporarily disappear from Goslings Café and Trimley Post Office. Why temporarily, you may ask? This is because during the Autumn, in October and November, a different, arboreal work force will return. They will commence a forestation project of the area around the bridge when trees of differing heights will be planted to replace those removed last year and to help screen the visibility of the Bridge. This operation will be on a much smaller scale and will last about a month. There will still be the occasional High Viz jacket in evidence but these will be worn by Network Rail employees who have to inspect the line once a week to maintain its safety.
The good news for us all is the upcoming restoration of access to the Grimston Hall side of the track, although I am inclined to think there are other benefits. What will an elevated view from the Bridge have to offer? There will be a clear view of the villages and the sweep of the land across lower Grimston Lane and towards the River will afford us new vistas to reflect upon.
Reflecting upon the view from the Bridge. 24th March 2019
In the eighteen months it has taken for the new bridge to be built, plus the dualling of the track, the work on the crossings and new signalling components, there have been three Train Ministers. To some degree, this reflects the wider times in which we live. Jo Johnson was the relevant Minister when Volker’s compound was constructed. Following his resignation in November 2018 over Brexit issues, he was replaced by Andrew Jones, who was in post from November until May 2019. The current Minister for Rail is Michael Ellis who replaced him. Dan informed me the official opening or ‘unveiling’ should be performed by Michael Ellis. It is he who should be “cutting the ribbon” as it were and declare the Bridge officially open and theoretically, this is scheduled for the week beginning 22nd July, which just happens to be when the new Conservative Party leader will be announced. Whether the Michael Ellis will be moved on due to promotion or other reasons, remains to be seen as does the official opening. Perhaps it may not be deemed important enough to attract the Minister for trains.
I left Dan at the end of a busy day after expressing my thanks and gratitude. He is shortly off to a new project at Barking Riverside to create a new station to serve commuters in a new housing development of ten thousand. Our temporary neighbours are shortly about flit to other parts of the country. I can only hope they enjoyed their time in Trimley.
Long view of the Bridge as it it draws close to completion. 18th June 2019
If you have any comments or would like to be part of the Trimley St. Martin project, please contact me at:
 According to the Trimley page on Facebook, one of the following was the first local to use the crossing; Ivan Charity, Berridge Eve or Tom King.