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Eye on the prize

RAIL ALL THE WAY - Steering the technically and logistically intricate high-speed line towards successful completion has required robust, proven, but finely tuned controls, discovers Andrew Mylius.

Less than a year away from handover, and with the major civils work now complete, construction of section two is running to schedule and to budget.

'We're not finished yet, ' cautions Brian Sedar, project director for Rail Link Engineering (RLE), the consortium responsible for design and delivery of the new high-speed line. 'We can't take our eye off the ball. There's still a lot to do. . .' Sedar's unfinished sentence encompasses outstanding work on CTRL's terminal, St Pancras International station - new stations at Stratford and Ebbseet have been built - line electrication, signalling and testing, the fit-out of a new station beneath St Pancras for Thameslink services and the commissioning of the high-speed train depot at Temple Mills.

Daunting as the list seems, Sedar can draw comfort from the project's accomplishments.

Since construction started in June 2001 nearly 40km of permanent way have been built, over half of it in tunnels beneath London and the Thames.

Tunnelling has tested the industry's limits, with bespoke boring machines driving through varied and in some locations little mapped ground. Colossal holes have been excavated and ventilation shafts and station boxes constructed. Bridges have been slid beneath rail lines, and threaded between existing structures with a conjurer's dexterity.

The route walks, as if on stilts, across swathes of waterlogged marshland. A geometric and logistical jigsaw puzzle has been completed to bring the line across the congested lands north of St Pancras and neighbouring King's Cross stations. And creation of the international terminus itself has involved a combination of major surgery, restoration and extension.

Over 8,000 tradespeople worked on the project at its peak, with about 3,500 craft and technical personnel still engaged in the final push.

Work has been carried out cheek by jowl with local communities. And it has managed potentially showstopping interfaces with infrastructure owned by London Underground, Network Rail, the Highways Agency, local authorities, and gas, electricity, water and sewerage utilities.

Every detail of the project has been subject to public scrutiny.

'There have been some heroic achievements on this project to date, ' Sedar enthuses.

Smooth delivery of this spectacularly grand and complex project has been underpinned by meticulous attention to detail, which, says Sedar, is ingrained in the delivery team from top to bottom.

London & Continental Railways (LCR) is a hugely savvy client.

Its shareholders are the major engineering companies Bechtel, Arup and Halcrow, investment bank UBS, transport operators National Express Group and SNCF, and electricity supply company EDF Energy.

Subsidiary company Union Railways is LCR's executor for the project, which is being designed and managed by RLE, a consortium between LCR's four engineering firms - Arup, Bechtel, Halcrow and Systra (a subsidiary of SNCF).

Strategies and working relationships were forged and tempered on delivery of the £1.9bn CTRL section one, started in October 1998 and completed in September 2003 to time and budget.

Union Railways managing director Dave Pointon recalls that LCR and RLE 'set out to have constructive relationships with the contracting community, nd better ways of doing things and share the benets, through pain/gain share.

'Section one went quite well, but there was a lot of very pugnacious action required to get it across the line at the end.

We studied our business model for section two, ' he says.

On section two, LCR set out to better place responsibility for risk with those best able to manage it, says Pointon. RLE is responsible for scheme design and the contractors for detailed design.

A 'mentality of no change' pervadesthe project, Pointon says. 'We are not talking about necessary changes needed at the coalface to make things work, but we are talking about changes made because someone new arrives and would like to rearrange the furniture.

'The construction process on this project is like a production factory. Even quite small changes impact on a production line - you can't stop it without signi cant consequences.

'We recognise that there'll be changes - adjustments will have to be made no matter how hard we try.

'Technology moves forward and by the time the rail line is delivered many of the designs we've been working from will be 10 years old. But wait till you have the nished article before deciding whether changes really are needed.' Applying the productionline model, work has been packaged geographically to give contractors a clear run at it.

'Giving the contractor a whole section mitigates the risk of interface conict.

'It gives them control over the management of like tasks. It allows them to get their arms

Safety

Pointon explains that steering section two towards successful completion is, at a micro-level, highly intricate. 'The project is broken down into sub-projects, each with a highly structured set of processes addressing risk and project management, status, schedule and process review.' However, at a macro level, Pointon and Sedar both say that success is driven by a simple holy trinity of guiding principles.

'The first item on every agenda is safety. It is our number one priority and we make it visibly so. The moment you walk through the door there are signs - you can see how you are expected to behave, what precautions you are required to take to ensure your safety. Operatives are briefed on safety every day before they go out on site. You need that commitment right through the project, ' says Pointon. He explains: 'At the level of making sure work gets done, if you pay attention to safety you de facto pay attention to quality and productivity.' There can be no excuses, says Pointon. 'The bottom line is zero tolerance. If people don't get the safety message they're removed from site. Contractors accept this because they don't want people who are manifestly unsafe.' Nor do they want staff who are compromising quality or slowing progress.

'You have to pay and train people properly, ' says Pointon, 'and you have to get contractors on board early; they have to get the message out to their staff, down to craft level.'

Dealing with disputes

A selection of contract forms have been used on section two but, generally, Option A xed price contracts for packages where the scope of works is simple, and Option C target price contracts for more complex works.

Pointon says that as far as possible, disputes are 'closed as we go. What you don't want to be doing is dealing with residual contractual problems long after the event. It doesn't add value and positions become more entrenched. Resolution becomes more costly.

'If there are contracts where there is just cause for compensation we deal with it now, not later. That gives all parties more resource to deal with the ongoing, not the gone.

The focus needs to remain on the work to be done.'

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