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High Speed 2 will push technological boundaries: Kirby

High Speed 2 will see a step-change in the adoption of emerging technologies in the construction industry, project boss Simon Kirby has vowed.

Kirby, chief executive, construction of the £42bn mega-scheme, said that rail industry’s traditional risk aversion would not be allowed to hold up adoption of new technologies on his project.

“Our approach to design and construction is fast becoming dated. Technologies such as BIM, design for offsite manufacture and assembly, and even Google offer ways to change how we deliver – if we let them,” said Kirby. “We need to remove the blockages and constraints towards technology in our sector.”

“So HS2 is a big opportunity. My personal experience is that in aerospace and defence you are pushing technology boundaries all the time.

“In rail – because we are often interfacing with existing infrastructure – it is always considered by people who are probably too risk averse to be too risky.

“But if you look at High Speed 2 this is new infrastructure and so it shouldn’t be an issue,” he said.

Kirby said that the project would deliberately spend longer on the design phase to ensure that once the project gets to construction it will be built in the most efficient way possible.

“We are going to use BIM to get the design right. We’re going to spend longer in design so we can do modular, offsite bridges, viaducts, etcetera,” he said.

Kirby’s views echoed that of HS2 technical director Andrew McNaughton who earlier this summer exhorted engineers to “design him a 3D printed embankment” in a quest to get more technology deployed on the project.

Kirby was speaking as outgoing chairman of Treasury body Infrastructure UK’s Client Group at the launch of its new three-year programme of work aimed at improving project delivery. He is to be succeeded as chairman on the renamed Infrastructure Client Group by Thames Tideway Tunnel chief executive Andy Mitchell.

The programme features 12 projects across four themes. Transport for London is to lead a project looking at the benefits of more collaborative project teams with shared use of technology a specific focus.

“Disruptive technologies will change the way we do things forever,” said London Underground programme director for Crossrail and stations Miles Ashley. Ashley is leading on the project.

“We will be looking at the digital economy and the use of information in design teams. Do today’s project structures allow us to optimise the use of that information?” asked Ashley.

Readers' comments (1)

  • The opportunity to innovate in the delivery of engineering solutions is obviously common to all sectors whether this is in design or construction. The ability to implement these innovations is only limited by the commitment of the organisations to the potential advantages.

    To introduce innovative technological solutions into service however is another matter altogether e.g. the flier that Apple took when launching the iphone,(http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/magazine/and-then-steve-said-let-there-be-an-iphone.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 ) would never be contemplated in either the aerospace or defence industry, far less in the public transportation sector, where the risks profile is substantially different.

    There is a fundamental difference to the risk profile of the industry diffrerent sectors.

    The challenge of using innovative, primarily digital delivery techniques in design in brown field developments on live operational railways should not be underestimated and this will often require a huge expenditure in data acquisition and often a complete change to business operations particularly how incremental changes to the infrastructure are implemented and recorded. This therefore requires a significant investment by the business. The inertia in introducing these techniques occurs because of either a) the inability of engineers to articulate and therfore quantify the benefits to the business, b) the inability of the business leaders to understand the benefits and hence support the changes or c) lack of resources. Any one of these will strangle delivery innovation at birth. Getting that commitment and business change is vital to the success of delivery of innovaton in the rail sector. Therefore we all need to raise our game.

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