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British reaction

PROJECT MANAGEMENT

British engineers appear divided on what to expect from the US programme managers. While most welcome their arrival, many expect a culture clash.

'They are keen on procedures, schedule and themselves,' says one British contractor. 'They get things done but it's very much a master and servant relationship despite the supposed partnering. They have hard nosed competitive attitudes and will play contractors off against each another, for example, by comparing productivity or safety league tables.'

Another contractor explains: 'They place a lot more emphasis on programme and scheduling which we in Britain tend to let drift by. Where we tend to gallop in at the end, they drive the schedule from day one. It's hard work but it's very satisfying.'

Some see the introduction of American techniques as essential. Balfour Beatty Rail managing director Rob Boulger says: 'We are carrying out the overhead line electrification on the WCML, while others are doing track remodelling and signalling work. Our expertise is in the projects. We cannot manage other contractors. These guys are going to be managing the interfaces between project contractors, maintenance contractors, external interfaces - everything.'

One British consultant currently working in the US believes introduction of American programme management techniques will change the shape of civil engineering in the UK.

'In the old days the resident engineer was king but the introduction of construction management has meant more specialisation,' he says.

'People have built up good teams of specialists to deal with different areas. This will grow following Railtrack's move and UK companies have to get their act together. In the US they combine consulting and contracting. That is the way to go if we want to catch up.'

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