Bechtel this week signed the £400M project delivery partner contract to design and manage construction of Crossrail’s central tunnelled section. NCE spoke to Cliff Mumm who will lead this challenging project
He sounds American, he speaks American and clutching a Starbucks take-out coffee in a sixth floor boardroom at Bechtel’s London headquarters he even looks American.
But make no mistake, Bechtel’s Crossrail project delivery director Cliff Mumm, the man in charge of delivering the central tunnelled section under the heart of London, is definitely a global animal.
And after a career roaming the world tackling some of the most exciting, difficult and politically testing infrastructure mega-projects, he is well qualified to rate the next job ahead of him.
“Logistically this is going to be one of the most challenging jobs that London has ever seen,” he says. “Without belittling the achievement of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link [High Speed 1], this is much more complex. We are going through a very dense part of London and have to keep London going throughout. Then there is the additional challenge of London wanting to be really beautiful for the Olympics in 2012.”
For Mumm, the monumental task of delivering the tunnels – worth some £12.5bn of the £15.9bn Crossrail total – on time, to budget, safely and without bringing the capital to a halt is why he is involved. But right now it is all about getting the project programme refined, properly worked through and agreed – “base-lining the schedule” as he puts it.
From then it is pressing ahead with the design and procurement process to ensure that the very tight programme is met.
“The current construction schedule runs right hard up on the [2017 opening] date,” he says. “It just allows the time that is needed for commissioning. That is quite a risky thing – there is not a lot of room.”
For the Crossrail team, getting Bechtel on board along with its bid partners Halcrow and Systra is key to meeting the challenges that this critical package of work brings.
And this week’s decision by Network Rail to award Bechtel the delivery partner role on the overground section of Crossrail works (News this week) can only reinforce the confidence in the firm to deliver.
The bid process over the last six months was hugely competitive and featured virtually all of the world’s best design and construction experts. Yet now, as the dust settles on Crossrail’s decision to award the contract to Bechtel, there can be little doubt that the firm is very well qualified to do the work.
Its impressive track record on major UK infrastructure projects dates back well over half a century and most recently has seen the firm play a key role in delivering the Channel Tunnel, High Speed 1, the West Coast Main Line upgrade and London Underground’s Jubilee Line Extension (JLE).
Mumm is one of Bechtel’s most experienced. As the man parachuted in by the then deputy prime minister John Prescott to pull the troubled JLE project back from the brink, Mumm’s involvement was critical to its eventual success.
But in many ways JLE also kick-started Mumm’s own love-affair with the capital, one factor which, he says, now underpins his passion for Crossrail.
“London is my home - I live here and I care about London,” he says, having brought his family to live in the UK in the mid-1990s.
That said, for Mumm the Crossrail project is also very definitely about the sheer excitement of mega-projects.
“I have experience of big projects and I really like them,” he says, becoming suddenly hugely animated. “I’m not that interested in managing a company – what I just love is the mess and the complexity that something like this will bring – this is a major thing.”
Mumm is visibly puzzled by the claims and criticisms in the media that the Crossrail project has awarded the first three major management contracts to US based firms. While he accepts that, yes, Bechtel’s home office is in San Francisco and, yes, he is American, he emphasises that design and construction is now very much a global business.
“We have been a key player in the UK since the 1950s,” he says pointing out that in this time the overwhelming majority of staff working on UK projects have been from the UK. “For JLE we only brought 20 people in from outside the UK. Of the 92 people on the team on this job we have just four Americans.
“Besides, a job like this is going to require everything that everyone has got.”
Mumm himself has had a truly global career to date. Most recently he has been running the Bechtel Civil operation which included major projects such as the Dulles Airport revamp.
But it is fair to say that he had been something of a disaster- recovery specialist before that.
After completing the JLE in 2000 he moved to Baghdad for a few years to run Bechtel’s reconstruction programme before returning to the US to mastermind the post 9/11 World Trade Center Ground Zero recovery operation.
He then moved to Mississippi to lead the challenging recovery programme following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“It does help to have cleared up messes [in the past] because then you know what not to do – or you know exactly what to do to get in yourself into a mess,” he says. “But this project is certainly not yet chaos.”
Yet Crossrail certainly does have huge risks and Mumm’s goal is to reduce, eliminate or manage them. “What we are trying to do is to look for contingency and then back that thing all the way to the left (of the programme),” he says. “I believe that there is more contingency in the schedule – we just have to go out and find it.”
The fact that Bechtel had the design management contract throughout the most recent planning stages of the project gives the team a significant head start he says, not least as Crossrail hands over design responsibility.
Bechtel also has the advantage of a well established relationship with Crossrail’s new chief executive Rob Holden who, along with partners Halcrow and Systra, worked with Bechtel on High Speed 1.
“We have been with them since the Channel Tunnel,” he explains. “We have 14 years of fighting all these things out – we know what they are good at and they know what we are good at so we don’t have those interface issues.”
This will help, as central to meeting the programme is getting the design right. That means first pressing ahead quickly to get the design frameworks procured.
“We have a scheme that is maybe 15% to 20% designed. That has been broken into design packages and some are out on the streets, some are being evaluated and some are ready to go on the streets,” he explains. “We are going to work very hard at designing to cost and will use optimised contractor involvement to ensure that we have constructible designs.”
His next challenge is to line up the right contracting teams to actually work with the designers and then construct the job. While the decision to move largely away from design and build was, he insists, the right one as the market was unwilling or unable to bear the risk, it still gives his teams some substantial issues to resolve.
“It is a challenge to get the contractors interested if they are not necessarily going to get the work – giving up all their good ideas,” he explains, emphasising that getting these ideas is crucial to constructability.
“We just need to make the packages very sweet to have – so that they will want the work,” he explains. “These are very large packages – this isn’t like dividing something up and offering £50M contracts – these are half a billion to a couple of billion pound packages. It is big work and these days everybody is looking for backlog so I think that they will be interested.”
Progressing the design is vital not least to enable the crucial tunnel boring machines (TBMs) to be ordered in the next few months. “TBM lead time is less than it was but it is still long,” he explains. “We are out on the street with the final tunnel design so we know what we want.”
Mumm is assembling his team to push on this design and procurement and he expects it to grow substantially.
But, he will draw heavily on the resources within Halcrow and Systra, who he says will bring critical technical resources to the project.
“We are starting to recruit now – it is pretty specific recruiting for technical experience but we will be recruiting throughout the job,” he says, adding: “Part of our challenge is to leave some kind of a legacy – there is a lot of grey hair around now so we need to bring in new people.”
To this end, the recently announced Crossrail Tunnelling Academy will be crucial if the project is to find sufficient expertise to cope with demand.
“The Tunnelling Academy is a big deal. We need 14,000 people and so we are going to have to have training programmes.”
Stakeholder management is one of his other biggest concerns. This does not just mean the client but the sponsors and all the local authorities and other affected groups.
“Transport for London and the Department for Transport have a number of agreements and we have to deliver according to those agreements,” he explains.
“But those are stakeholders that know how to be managed. There are many more less experienced stakeholders and we have to get people prepared for Crossrail’s arrival.”
And it is also critical to get the whole supply chain “plugged in” to the incentive programme so that everyone across the job can understand how their role impacts budget, programme and safety and shares the rewards of success.
He insists that the scale of the job means that there will be huge opportunities across the industry for those able to deliver.
“We wouldn’t want all our eggs in one basket so the work will be spread,” he explains.
“But that will be done through the qualification process. Bidders will have to show that they have the capacity and that they have an A-team available to deliver the work.”
Bechtel’s role as delivery partner
Bechtel’s appointment as Crossrail delivery partner completes the senior management line-up for the project following the recent appointment of Transcend as programme partner.
Transcend’s role is one of strategic programme management, or one of “seamless integration with the client team”, as Crossrail procurement director Steve Rowsell described it in NCE’s “Building Crossrail” supplement.
The delivery partner in contrast will need “hard-nosed skills”, according to Rowsell, “albeit within a partnering approach”. It is arguably the biggest job on the project and as a result Bechtel with its partners Halcrow and Systra are expected to commit “significant resources” and people to the job.
“The selection of the project delivery partner following such a competitive procurement process marks a significant milestone in the delivery of Crossrail,” said Crossrail non-executive chairman Douglas Oakervee.
“With the appointment of Bechtel as project delivery partner, Crossrail will have world class expertise in place to oversee the project management of this new railway and delivery of the Crossrail tunnels through central London and on to Docklands and Woolwich.”