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Crossrail: get ready to rumble

The £16bn Crossrail project finally achieved Royal Assent last week. Project boss Doug Oakervee sets out the next moves.

Listen to the interview here

Crossrail is the most eagerly awaited of transport projects in the UK - a "grand projet" which promises to transform public transport around London within 10 years.

Given that it has been on the slate since the 1970s and that as little as five years ago was all but written off as a pipe dream, this week's Royal Assent for the Crossrail Bill is a massive achievement by scheme promoter Cross London Rail Links (CLRL).

So having finally made its way through the Parliamentary process, the big question is, given the nation's current economic woes, can we afford its £15.9bn price-tag?

"The funding packages are in place as per Gordon Brown's announcement in October," says CLRL chairman Doug Oakervee, as he moves from being project promoter to delivery agent. "But if you were to ask me could I go to the bank and draw on the entire £15.9bn in cash the answer is obviously no - why would you expect it to be there?"

And despite the clear changes in pressures on the public purse since this time, Oakervee continues to rule out any slippage in the project's ambitious programme.

"It was all agreed in October and we are still working to the original programme," he adds. "The only thing is the Royal Assent took a bit longer than anticipated but that doesn't really affect us."

Oakervee is aware that not everyone shares his optimism - but then again he also points out that not everyone thought his joining the Crossrail team in 2005 was necessarily a wise move.

He therefore dismisses comments made recently by London School of Economics public finance expert Tony Travers that the programme could be delayed by up to five years as without basis (NCE 17 July).

"Neither he (Travers) nor I are in the heart of the Treasury - and as we've heard recently Treasury are reconsidering Gordon's Golden Rules. But as far as I'm concerned - I saw Travers' remarks - while that may be a concern that he has got it certainly doesn't align itself with what the sponsors and Treasury are talking about to us."

Oakervee insists that because Crossrail is desperately needed. An economic problem is not, he says, a reason not to start the project as delay will only to exacerbate the transport - and economic - problems.
"The Secretary of State , the Mayor, Peter Hendy (TfL transport commissioner) and myself do not have concerns (about funding)," he adds. "And bearing in mind that we don't start heavy construction until 2010 - the economic could change quite dramatically again by then."

That said, the current economic downturn will, he says, most likely have a positive effect on the project and tame an inflation problem that has always been considered a major risk.

"The shape of the industry is going to change. The advantage is that the challenge that we were facing is not as severe as it might have been in terms of shortages of skills," he says. "I wouldn't like to say whether or not prices will fall but certainly the contractors will be a lot more comfortable."

The challenge now is to move the project swiftly from a promotional organisation to a delivery agent and this starts immediately with the acquisition of some 13,000 titles under compulsory purchase.

Invitations to tender will also start to go out for a delivery partner for the central tunnelled section of the route and for framework consultants to design the works across five main categories.

The original multidisciplinary design consultants will have finalised their work to produce the definition design by September and since design and build was ruled out late last year and so will stand down as the project is now to be built as a programme of work packages.

Each of these packages will be competitively awarded from the framework consultants with so-called Optimised Contractor Involvement will see contractors bought on board alongside the design consultants as soon as necessary.

A delivery partner will also be contracted to manage the central tunnelled section for CLRL while Network Rail oversees the overground rail work. Other discreet sections of the programme will include the Canary Wharf extension and the new Woolwich station and a programme manager will assist CLRL's management of the project end to end.

"It is a series of projects - the central section is one area but we also have Canary Wharf doing the Isle of Dogs, Berkley Homes doing Woolwich. We need some addition resources there and that will be provided by the programme partner," says Oakervee.The central tunnelled section will be looked after by the delivery partner who will have goals and incentives to drive the work and, Oakervee explains, be a cross between the RLE arrangement on CTRL and the CLM team at the Olympic Delivery Authority.

"Once we have the framework contractors - consultants - in place, as and when design packages come up we will let the work competitively amongst that group as packages of work," he says. "There will be contractor involvement later on - we will have optimised contractor involvement as opposed to early contractor involvement. (The framework consultants) will carry out the detailed design to a level that will allow the contractors to come in.

The end result will be that the CLRL internal team will not be much bigger. The current parliamentary team under Keith Berryman will focus on land acquisition and then community relations and the engineering team, though strengthened, will work closely with partners and framework consultants.

However the project team will change at the top with four new non-executive directors already brought on board - including ICE past president and former George Wimpey chairman Sir Joe Dwyer.

A chief executive officer will also be appointed and although Oakervee doesn't rule himself out of any future role, at 68 he accepts that a non-executive role would probably suit him better.

"I fully intend that my experience and knowledge will continue to be closely associated with Crossrail through the challenging and exciting times ahead," he says. "The changes follow best practice in corporate governance. However, I will not be disappearing."

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