High Speed 1: A new benchmark in project management

Posted: 26 November 2007 | | No comments yet

Britain is finally getting its first new successful railway line in over a century. Nine years after construction began, High Speed 1 (HS1) is ready to commence commercial services from St Pancras International, the glorious new home of British high-speed rail travel.

Britain is finally getting its first new successful railway line in over a century. Nine years after construction began, High Speed 1 (HS1) is ready to commence commercial services from St Pancras International, the glorious new home of British high-speed rail travel.

“This landmark project is a demonstration of how passengers can benefit from a combination of Government investment and private sector delivery. I congratulate all those who have been involved in successfully constructing this magnificent new railway on time and within budget.” – Tom Harris, Rail Minister.

Britain is finally getting its first new successful railway line in over a century. Nine years after construction began, High Speed 1 (HS1) is ready to commence commercial services from St Pancras International, the glorious new home of British high-speed rail travel.

With a maximum operating speed of 300kph, HS1 will slice the journey time from central London to Paris to only 2 hours 15 minutes and the journey to Brussels will take less than 2 hours. When commuter services come into operation in 2009, the journey time from central London to Ebbsfleet in north Kent will be only 17 minutes compared to the current 50 minute journey time to the area.

The team and contracts

London & Continental Railways, the company behind HS1, appointed Rail Link Engineering (RLE) – a joint venture between Arup, Bechtel, Halcrow and Systra – to project manage the delivery of the project. On LCR’s behalf, RLE has been responsible for supervising the design and construction of HS1. Commitment to deliver “on time and within budget” is a heavy burden for a project on this scale, but it is one that RLE has lived up to.

Ailie MacAdam, RLE Project Director (Bechtel), puts RLE’s success down to deft project management, using collaborative working at a level unprecedented in the construction industry.

“We have been working with our client to realise a business venture, not just building a project,” Ailie said. “In order to deliver that, we created a team which brought together different cultures to achieve the project objectives. We then put the risk for each part of the project with the people in the team best able to deliver it, regardless of which company they came from. That is, we used the different strengths of the Joint Venture to excellent effect.”

To eliminate the damaging delays and financial impacts that crop up all too often on construction projects, RLE drew up a variation to the NEC Contract. The driving principle of the contract was to create a balanced contract that motivated the parties to work together to beat deadlines and reach financial targets at each stage of the project: the incentive was to beat the programme which in turn contained cost. “At the time this was being talked about in the civil engineering industry, but nobody had taken it forward, particularly on this scale,” according to Ailie.

As the project evolved, RLE reviewed the contract and procurement strategy for each new type of work. For example on Section 2, RLE took on the role of construction manager to deliver the 8-berth Eurostar Depot at Temple Mills, near Stratford, which resulted in completion three months early and significantly under budget.

“Good communications were crucial,” said Alan Runacres, who represented Halcrow on the RLE Board of Control. “That’s one of the real lessons to take away from the HS1 project.”

“We established robust budgets embracing comprehensive risk assessments which we monitored on a monthly basis,” Alan added. “That enabled RLE to proactively manage the risks and to take timely corrective actions. The communications advantages of integrated co-location of RLE staff were replicated on sites where Contractors and RLE worked in integrated teams focused on delivering HS1.”

RLE put a great deal of effort into carrying out the normal project processes rigorously, e.g. client meetings, early warnings, design and constructability reviews, progress updates, but in a way which gave visibility to the actions being taken, enabled involvement of the wider team and allowed opportunities to identify improvements in communication. The objective was that there should be no surprises.

The RLE approach to team building, communication and enlightened procurement has substantially underpinned the success of the project.

Engineering excellence

“We really have raised the technical and planning standard on this project. We pride ourselves on employing innovative engineering techniques that best suit the work and will give us, and our client, the best performance. In a number of complex cases, we have found our approach to developing novel technical and procurement solutions coupled with intensive planning has resulted in faster programmes and reduced costs beyond expectation. The key to success has been planning, planning and planning,” said Mike Glover, RLE Technical Director (Arup).

For example, on the first section of HS1, the 74km stretch from the Channel Tunnel to Fawkham Junction in North Kent, the partners generated £5 million of savings when the 3km tunnel under the North Downs was executed ahead of schedule and under budget. They achieved the same saving on the 1.2km viaduct over the River Medway, near Rochester.

A novel approach to negotiating Essex’s QEII Bridge involved threading a rail viaduct through the gap between the Essex viaduct and the QEII Bridge – the engineering equivalent of ‘threading the eye of a needle’. HS1’s overhead power lines are within 750mm of the bridge.

The project also completed one of the UK’s largest ever bridge slides. The 111 metre rail bridge, weighing over 9,000 tonnes, was slid into place to reconnect the North Kent Line over a Bank Holiday weekend.

As part of the £3.3 billion Section 2 of HS1, some 19km of twin bore tunnels were bored from Dagenham through Stratford and onto the King’s Cross railway lands behind St Pancras International. Every tunnel on HS1 was completed ahead of time, a testament to effective planning and project management.

One of the biggest challenges to building the tunnels was that the route ran through multiple ground conditions, from clay to chalk and dense sand, each of which required different engineering approaches and different high-specification Tunnel Boring Machines. The tunnels passed under 2,600 properties, 67 bridges, 12km of surface railway, 12 existing tunnels, 600 utility pipelines, and not to mention three of London Underground’s busiest tube lines. The team successfully tunnelled within four metres of the central line early in the programme without the need to suspend services.

A crucial element of the RLE consortium was the French high-speed-rail expertise. The signalling, track and electrification systems that had been tried and tested on the continent were adopted by HS1 to reduce risks. “Why should you opt to use new methods when you already have the proven technology working successfully,” said RLE Engineering and Railway Operations Manager, André Leboucher, (SYSTRA).

Negotiating the operational risks in creating the UK’s first new mainline railway for more than a century and one of the largest infrastructure projects in Europe in the last decade, has required a supreme effort in project management by RLE.

Environment, safety and the community

RLE has also been a standard bearer in its unrelenting approach to safety with zero tolerance to accidents on site, an ethos which has again spread beyond this project across the construction industry. The project has received 19 Health & Safety awards and ten HS1 construction sites have reached over one million man hours without a reportable accident.

Historically, major infrastructure projects have often neglected to look beyond engineering and consider the wider implications of construction. RLE kick-started a considerate approach that has spread across the industry.

The tunnels weaving underneath London presented enormous technical challenges. However, as well as the technical skills required, this also required unprecedented emphasis to be placed on the project’s relationship with the public. HS1 has set the standard in this regard, taking public consultation to a new level in this country.

The project facilitated one of the largest archaeological investigations in Europe. At Ebbsfleet, an Anglo-Saxon water mill and a Roman town with seven temples were unearthed. An Anglo-Saxon cemetery was discovered in Saltwood near Folkestone and perhaps the most exciting find was the skeleton of a giant elephant, Palaeoloxodon Antiquus, dating from 400,000 years ago. 13 listed buildings have been moved and preserved including the 16th Century Bridge House in Sellindge, which was slid 100 metres away from the HS1 route.

Preservation of the local ecology along the route included creating 78 new artificial roosts for bats including a bat cave, eight new ponds for amphibians, six new artificial badger sets and track crossing points, a new habitat for the nationally rare Grey Mouse-Ear flower, re-introduction of over 100 hazel dormice from Kent into other UK woodlands as part of a species recovery programme, as well as mitigation for water vole populations. Over one million new trees and shrubs have been planted and 255ha of new woodland created on the project.

A further aspect of the project’s commitment to environmental enhancement has been the manner in which the derelict Grade 1 listed St Pancras International has been rejuvenated to become a vibrant new transport destination and is the centre of regeneration in the King’s Cross area. Similar opportunities for massive urban regeneration have been created by HS1 at Stratford and in North Kent.

HS1’s completion makes an essential contribution to the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London and promises to open a new chapter in high-speed rail travel for the 21st Century, while setting a new benchmark in project management.

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