Balfour Beatty Major Projects technical services director Andrew McNaughton has already been compared to our greatest engineer. Nina Lovelace spoke to the latest Civil Engineering Manager of the Year.
Andrew McNaughton started his managerial career at a surprisingly early age. Staffing problems at the Royal Navy school he attended meant that at the age of 18 he chose to step in and manage his boarding house in his role as head boy.
He immediately became responsible for ensuring that 60 boys got where they were supposed to be, and at the right time.
As a result McNaughton admits he made a 'pigs ear' of his A-levels and missed his grades for his coveted career in the Royal Navy. So when Nottingham University offered him a chance to study civil engineering he snapped it up. And he now admits: 'I haven't looked back.'
Last week McNaughton won the ICE Civil Engineering Manager of the Year 2002 award for his work as project manager on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link's (CTRL) contract 440. He has also been described by ICE Civil Engineering Manager of the Year judge David Cawthra as 'modern day Brunel'.
'All the contestants were great, ' says Cawthra. 'But Andrew went that bit further. His project got under stress - all of which was from external sources - but he still kept it together, as well as maintaining community liaison and environmental responsibilities.'
These are skills that Balfour Beatty is obviously keen to hold onto. McNaughton has been promoted twice since working as project director on Contract 440, part of Section One of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, which runs from the existing Channel Tunnel at Folkestone to Fawkham junction in Kent.
The £60M contract comprised 16km of above ground highspeed railway line to link the Channel Tunnel with the new CTRL. Work involved building several bridges and two cut and cover tunnels.
The project was challenging enough from the outset, explains McNaughton. Sandwiched between the live Eurostar railway and the M20 motorway, McNaughton's team only had a 15m wide trace in some sections. 'We were piling 3m away from a live international railway, ' he says.
Also, at the east end of the trace, earthmoving work took place above an existing brick arch rail tunnel built in 1842, and used by Eurostar trains. 'Working there was a major risk.
Everything that goes to France has to go through that tunnel.'
If these challenges were not enough, McNaughton was also forced to start the contract in autumn 1999 armed only with half-finished designs from client Union Railways' (UR) designer, Rail Link Engineering (RLE).
This was because the project was originally due to start on the London section. But changes brought about by the government rescue of the project in 1999 meant that suddenly Section One became the priority. 'John Prescott wanted everyone to be on site by October 1999, ' says McNaughton.
So as soon as Balfour Beatty had secured the contract, McNaughton set about sourcing a special multi-disciplinary team, with the full support of both client and RLE. He took care to find the right railway engineers, highways experts due to the proximity of the M20, earthworks and piling specialists, listed building specialists and environmentalists to protect ancient woodland adjacent to the site.
McNaughton knew that setting up his team to be as efficient as possible would also be key, so from the start he brought designer and main contractor together in one office. 'This was made much easier by the client's choice to use the New Engineering Contract, ' says McNaughton.
This encourages flexibility and transparency between client, designer, contractor and subcontractor.
UR was happy to accept McNaughton's decision to bring the main subcontractor Stent piling and earthworks specialist CA Blackwell into the 'top circle' management team. Earthworks and piling were some of the major civils works, so it was essential they were involved in early warning meetings. 'If anything affected the project, they would be involved. They had to be, ' adds McNaughton.
Just as everyone was starting to get on top of the challenges and bringing completed designs on stream, a series of events pushed the team to its limits. Contractors stumbled across an Anglo-Saxon burial ground above the 1842 tunnel, so everything stopped for the archaeologists.
'That was where all the fill was coming from for the main cut. We had to completely change the sequence of the site, ' explains McNaughton. The team shifted some work away from earthworks and onto structures.
Meanwhile, Railtrack was slow to decide what strengthening work was needed for the 1842 tunnel. 'This used up all the buffer the project had. We were pushed onto the critical path of Section One.'
Railtrack finally estimated the required work would take 18 months. 'That would have been it, project over, ' says McNaughton.
In the end, McNaughton's team was able to come up with a rapid strengthening method which helped push the work through in just 10 months.
Next the team discovered that ground conditions were worse than expected. The decision to have the earthworks and piling people in the main team was vindicated at this point because they could feed the contractor with fast and feasible ideas on how to combat the problems.
One solution involved adding stone to the soil, so McNaughton decided to open up an old railhead as a delivery point for aggregate. This was also to be used to feed the on-site concrete batching plant.
But just as things were falling into place, the Hatfield train crash happened and the rail network was put under blanket speed restrictions. 'Our trains ended up getting rerouted all over the place, ' says McNaughton. 'It really tested the logistics.'
Then on-site earthworks trucks were hit in August 2000 with the onset on the fuel strike.
Not surprisingly, by October 2000 McNaughton hoped the worst was over. Recognising the extenuating circumstances, the client had given the team some extra float on the project, which was due for completion by August 2001. McNaughton had 90,000m 3of earth left to move and a month to do it in, so he was not unduly worried.
'On the 5th October it was bright sunshine. But on the 6th it started raining - and didn't stop until March.' The weather meant some earthworks had been ruined - 'We had to completely rebuild one embankment, ' says McNaughton.
The contract was handed over to the track laying teams on time and to budget in August 2001.
And despite the many challenges the project threw up, McNaughton says he found it thoroughly rewarding.
For him, teamwork between client, designer, contractor and subbies is key, as is maintaining motivation - 'You've got to support the team coming forward with ideas. They've got to feel they are being developed.'
But the most important thing is understanding and wanting to share the client's vision of the project, he says. 'I had to understand what was important for the project, ' he says. 'I had to make sure I was working for UR and RLE and not for Balfour Beatty.'
And vision is what will make Brunels of the future, he adds.
'Brunel understood what was needed for the future. And he got the money because he could sell that vision to the public.'
The 2002 Civil Engineering Manager of the Year judges were:
David Cawthra (ICE) Ray O' Rourke (Laing O' Rourke) Tim Matthews (Highways Agency) Bob Emmerson (Arup) For details of how to enter the Civil Engineering Manager of the Year 2003 competition, contact John Bennett on:
(020) 7222 7722 or email: cemya@ice. org. uk