Workers Moved After Asbestos Found At Birmingham New Street Station

Evacuation at train station after traces of asbestos were found


Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

A major safety alert at Birmingham’s new £500 million rail station forced dozens of workers to stop working as a large quantity of white asbestos was uncovered.

A total of 50 workers had to be evacuated from the south-east corner of the old station to allow emergency procedures to be carried out to investigate the traces of the material found whilst building work was being carried out.

The evacuation involved many members of staff, including demolition contractors, surveyors and works contractors, who were moved to other areas of the complex as a precautionary measure.

Network Rail issued a statement to say there is no danger to members of the public using the station – but workers claim the full extent of the problem is still unknown while tests are carried out on the asbestos.

A worker, who asked not to be named, said: “The men were put on hold and the stuff has been taken away for examination. They were trying to hush it up but it is important that the public are made aware of what has happened.

“Loads of asbestos was found and some of the sub-contractors had to be stood down for days. It has created a lot of concern amongst the men.”

A spokesman from Network Rail said the discovery of asbestos had been expected due to the age of the old New Street station.

The company said the asbestos scare would not delay the anticipated 2015 completion date but would increase the overall costs of the redevelopment scheme.

“Working on a building of this age we had expected and planned for encountering asbestos but perhaps not in the quantity and locations that have been recently uncovered. There is no danger to the public using the station and the areas have been sealed while we bring in specialists to remove it.

“Most workers have moved onto other areas and aspects of the redevelopment in the interim. We don’t anticipate this impacting on our 2015 finish date but extra costs are being incurred.”

The spokesman said the area sealed off following the discovery included mainly back-room offices, service and storage areas in the south-east corner of the old New Street Station. The asbestos found is the less dangerous white strain, as opposed to blue. Network Rail said it was ‘perfectly safe if not disturbed.’

The spokesman added: “Surveyors, the demolition contractor and temporary works contractors such as scaffolders and temporary lighting installations have been re-allocated to other parts of the project where asbestos risk has been dealt with and clearance already given – around 50 guys in all.”

The spokesman said all the workers affected in last week’s incident had now been re-allocated to other duties.

“We were aware, via old paperwork, that an asbestos strip of the old concourse was done over a decade ago but it seems that the south-east corner with its back-room offices and larger service and storage areas were left.”

The station has remained open throughout the £550 million redevelopment to transform New Street. The new concourse opened in April, leaving Network Rail and its partner Mace to deliver the project.

Redevelopment work is underway on the old station concourse and the Pallasades shopping centre, which will be converted into a new shopping destination called Grand Central Birmingham.

The station has remained largely unchanged since it was last redeveloped in 1967 and has been forced to cater for more than double the number of passengers it was initially designed to accommodate.

Expert Opinion
Network Rail responded very quickly to this situation and sealed off the areas of concern until further testing has been completed. However, a full assessment of the materials should have been completed in advance of the work being started.

“Asbestos-related illnesses and exposure to asbestos are considered to be an historic problem, and not relevant today, because the use of new asbestos products in construction was prohibited many years ago and the illnesses which this deadly dust cause can take decades to develop.

“Prosecutions such as this highlight that this is a very real current problem, given how many building still contain asbestos building materials.

“We work with people on a daily basis who have been exposed to asbestos and who have developed the most severe illnesses, to get them the justice they deserve from their past employers who took a chance with asbestos and ignored the risks. The priority is to stop exposure happening in the first place. There is no excuse for taking chances with asbestos in this day and age.

“Many public buildings over recent years have been found to contain asbestos and we have campaigned for a register of all council owned buildings so that the dangerous material can be identified and removed, or at the very least handled under properly controlled conditions.

“Employers who expose their staff to asbestos in unprotected conditions are playing Russian Roulette with their workers lives.”

“Hopefully the swift action at New Street station will prevent any future problems but it is essential that all tests are carried out and the full scale of the dangerous asbestos clarified before workers are allowed back into those working zones.”
Alida Coates, Partner