Collaboration between client, contractor and supply chain was crucial as the construction project developed in scope, writes Jackie Whitelaw.
More from: East London Line special: An introduction
What is remarkable about the management of the London Overground East London Line construction work is that the job has so successfully beaten its deadlines; particularly when the scope of the scheme was somewhat fluid when the job was tendered.
Balfour Beatty Carillion Joint Venture (BBCJV) bid for and won the basic project against strong competition and with the addition of many changes.
The final job is coming in at £700M or thereabouts after new elements were added in and the amount of work required became clearer as the construction teams got stuck in on site.
“We knew there would be additional work in the central section but we couldn’t find out how much until we took possession of the railway from London Underground (LUL),” says London Overground Infrastructure director Peter Richards.
“We had to design, construct, test, commission and deliver an operational railway”
“We also knew the depot, for instance, had to be added in but the contractor could not price that in the original tender because the designs from Bombardier were still being developed.
“That is why we went for a target cost design and build contract rather than fixed price.”
But Richards points out that there was always a total budget and as the work grew, “we adjusted the scope to suit the budget.”
“Is it safety critical?” was the mantra. If it was, then the money was found, if not, then as much cash was saved on each operation as possible so there was some to spare when needed. That approach required close collaboration between the client team, BBCJV and its supply chain throughout the works.
“The closely cooperative culture of the job has been vital,” says Balfour Beatty Carillion project director Mike Casebourne.
“It is one of complete openness; no secrets, shared decisions and facing and solving problems together.”
Richards agrees: “We have some very dedicated people on this project. There is a collaborative, positive culture which has all helped towards getting the job out the door on time and on budget.”
Actually the railway is two months ahead of schedule. The original opening date set at the start of the job in 2004 was 30 June 2010.
“The scope increased, yet our design, construction and commissioning period increased.”
The full line opened on 23 May to coincide with the seasonal timetable change; and passengers were using the central section of the route from 27 April. Not bad for a complex, modern railway squeezed into a packed capital city.
“We are particularly pleased about getting the route into service early as it will have a huge benefit to the travelling public,” Richards says.
“Right from the start, when we signed the contract on 20 October 2006 we had to remember that we had committed to design, construct, test, commission and deliver an operational railway, not just its separate structures and rail systems,” says Casebourne. “It was a requirement driven contract - for example to design for three minute headways between trains.”
“There were 6,000 requirements and about two thirds of them were changed or modified as we all got on with the job,”says Balfour Beatty Carillion engineering director Andy Nettleton. “Without strong management of a resilient, responsive design organisation we would never have achieved so much in such a short time.”
The key to pinning down the scope was gaining access to the old Underground section of the route between Shoreditch and New Cross Gate.
“We pushed to get London Underground to agree to get the route closed as early as possible,” says Parsons Brinckerhoff head of programme management Ashok Kothari . LU agreed to shut down the line in December2007 although it had originally wanted to keep it open until the following April.
Back on track
There was a slight delay while Underground upgrade contractor Metronet stripped out all of its assets but the joint venture finally got onto the line three months early at the end of January 2008.
That is when the scope of the job began to develop. There was the depot to add in. And two bulk supply points for power.
“Those two 132kV bulk supply points came on top of three 33kV traction substations already in the contract, and those three had to change from pre-assembly to larger built insitu on site versions,” says Balfour Beatty Carillion construction director Adam Stuart.
An enabling works contract had beefed up the Victorian Kingsland brick arch viaduct between Shoreditch High Street and Dalston. “But that still left BBCJV a lot of work in further assessment and strengthening,” says Stuart.
The six “tunnel” stations between Whitechapel and Surrey Quays also needed much more work than originally thought and London Overground decided to properly refurbish them, he adds.
“A grade separated junction was also introduced to make the link with phase 2 to Clapham Junction so as not to disrupt East London Line running when that project goes ahead.
“One of the things I am most proud of here is that the scope has increased very significantly yet our design, construction and commissioning period increased by only five months,” says Stuart.
BBCJV drove itself along, and for added momentum it had a set of about one hundred non-contractual milestones to hit, worked out with Parsons Brinckerhoff.
“In December 2008 we said that we’d have all the structures, track, and operational systems complete to start test train running 10 months later on 5 October 09, and we did,” says Stuart. “And from that date we ran up to six of the new trains every day for four months during which we finished the new station buildings behind the platforms; our track gives a very smooth ride and the Invensys signalling system proved faultless.”
“Also in December 2008 we gave a date of 17 January 2010 to hand over to trial operations and on that very date we started the week long process of handover to Transport for London for trial operations,” adds Casebourne.
“In parallel the refurbishment of the tunnel stations was completed and the customer information systems were finished. Now customers are on board and everything is working reliably.”
Managing the teams
As BBCJV project director, Mike Casebourne has had to manage 640 professional staff, and 600 designers off site in the offices of Scott Wilson and Tony Gee and other designers.
He is aslo responsible for 2,500 operatives on site at peak and up to 1,000 people engaged in the offsite manufacture of all the elements for the job all over the UK. At peak, the project was spending £30M every four weeks or £1.5M a day.
The job was divided into four construction sections under the control of four BBCJV senior project managers; northern civils under Andy Swift; southern and central civils under Paul Rasmussen; rail systems under Elliott Young and the depot under Howard Williams.
These were supported by design, commercial and administrative managers within their teams and reporting also to their department directors.
Community relations were a vital part of successful delivery of the East London Line with full time community relations managers working for London Overground and BBCJV.
The usual issues of working hours, noise and dust had to be addressed but it was either end of the project - at Dalston and New Cross Gate where there were most sensitivities.
“There was some resistance to the idea of Dalston being gentrified,” says head of communications for London Rail Julie Dixon. “But we always stress that the East London Line is a regenerating railway with the priority being to give people access to jobs which has helped allay concern.
“At New Cross Gate people were unhappy at the idea of a 24 hour train depot. The solution was to get the residents involved, listen to them and respond to their concerns. For instance, the depot will have low level lighting so as not to create a nuisance.”
The London Overground East London Line scheme has had an excellent safety record over the duration of the project. The site has twice recorded 1M accident free hours under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (Riddor) 1995.
This was achieved in December 2008 and again in November 2009. The job hit over 1.5M continuous Riddor-free hours, and the current accident frequency ratio of reportable accidents to 100,000 man hours worked is an excellent 0.12, a performance which recently landed a coveted Rospa Gold Award.
“We have had a really big push on the safety culture on this project,” says health and safety manager Mike Davies.
“We have focused on the supervisors and gangers and put in some fun incentives like group of the month winning a fleece each,” he adds.
East London Line special: Working together as a team