Polystyrene station platforms slash construction time and minimise customer inconvenience for Network Rail

The finished platform at Peterborough station made with expanded polystyrene airpop (EPS)

The finished platform at Peterborough station

Expanded Polystyrene – recently re-named across Europe as ‘airpop’ and a leading material for construction industry applications – has slashed construction time from 20 weeks to just 20 days for a new, 60-metre rail platform extension at busy Peterborough station.

Chosen over alternative, more traditional, construction methods of either concrete construction or modular steel, the new-technology modular polystyrene option was made available from MegaTech Projects as the approved designers, suppliers and installers of the Network Rail standard design capable of meeting all of the European and Network Rail standards for strength, durability, fire and chemical resistance with a minimum expected design life of sixty years.

The new system delivered to site in just 73 hours – half of which involved the removal of the existing infrastructure – also significantly reduced people time on site as well as improving safety and proving to be “an excellent demonstration of a sustainable delivery with very little waste/spoil generated”, according to Network Rail.

Although a proven technology in Europe, the use of polystyrene for such transport infrastructure applications has not been widely taken up in the UK rail industry. But according to Phil Verster, Route Managing Director for Network Rail, “The innovation demonstrated here has paid real dividends for the project. We need to embrace these new technologies and adopt new ways of working if we are to deliver our essential improvements whilst maintaining an acceptable level of service continuity for our customers throughout our next five years of investment. This platform extension is a good example of what can be achieved through challenging the norm.”

Working on the platform overnight at Peterborough station made with expanded polystyrene airpop (EPS)

Working on the platform overnight at Peterborough station

The project team and contractors Carillion worked with MegaTech Projects to develop the design and deliver installation of the 30 large polystyrene blocks and matching concrete surface panels. Network Rail confirmed that significant benefits included the fact that the project had been four times quicker to construct than a traditional concrete build and 2-3 times faster than using a modular steel solution. The design eliminated the need for foundations, minimised the risk of striking buried services and meant less material from excavation. George Rowe, Managing Director of MegaTech Projects, said “we have demonstrated that were able to provide an innovative, easy-to-install and cost-saving solution and much of this is down to the versatility and durability of EPS as a core material.”

Chairman of the EPS Group of the British Plastics Federation, David Emes also pointed to the environmental advantages. “As well as high impact strength, light weight and design versatility, polystyrene also offers outstanding environmental credentials. It is 98% air bound in a polymer matrix. It is recyclable at the end of its life and scores the highest A+ summary rating in the BRE Global Green Guide to Specification. This is supported by at least eight ‘straight As’ in each of the separate impact ratings for each EPS density. The results show that, in every density measured, EPS had a summary result of A+ — the highest BRE rating meaning the lowest environmental impact”.

The work at Peterborough is crucial to Network Rail’s ongoing programme of improving capacity and reliability on Britain’s busy high-speed ‘East Coast’ line. Programme Manager Steve Coe, who managed the project added, “Platform One traditionally receives extremely heavy footfall, so minimising passenger disruption during this work was key and made modular polystyrene the best option. The modular design and speed of build generated tangible benefits to the project and it is a method I will certainly consider adopting for future projects.”

Further platform extensions and refurbishments as part of Carillion’s Intercity Express Platforms (IEP) programme also include Stevenage, Northallerton, Darlington, Durham and Grantham and Newark Northgate stations. Given the outstanding success of these projects and the economic and time-saving advantages they bring, the UK expanded polystyrene industry is convinced the innovative use of this material will be taken up even more widely in major transport and civil engineering projects of this kind.