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HS2 chief engineer rails against construction inefficiency

High Speed 2’s (HS2) chief engineer has heaped criticism on high costs of infrastructure in the UK and set out ways that his scheme will keep costs down.

Giving this year’s Constructors Lecture at London’s City University last week, HS2 Ltd technical director Andrew McNaughton said that a number of factors had contributed to infrastructure costing “more than it needs to” including an often “bizarre” interpretation of standards and an overreliance on budget contingencies.

However, he said mostly to blame was the UK’s reliance on the skills of multi-national programme managers.

“We do stop start in this country and therefore we don’t have the right skills,” he told the audience. “We hire the skills by bringing in some multinational programme manager; do not train our own people and then when [the project is] finished they all go away again.”

He said that HS2 would have the advantage of being a programme running over decades, which would enable UK workers to build their careers on the job.

Overreliance on contingency funds as though they were part of the core funds for a scheme was also an issue, McNaughton said.

“Whatever number [for the £33bn HS2] is out there now there is a massive amount of contingency,” he said. “One of the things we’ve got to do in this country is not spend the contingency. It’s very easy if you’re a sponsor with a 30% contingency to treat it like a WAG with a credit card. Stop all that. Put the money in a jar and you don’t touch it and that way you get the costs down.”

Also culpable was the UK’s interpretation of European legislation, which he labelled “bizarre” on occasion. He went on to cite the example of construction of a metro in London against a metro in Madrid – despite using the same regulations Madrid had 200 white collar workers on its scheme while the London project employed 1,400.

With regard to staffing he also claimed the UK had “got into a bit of a state” with its inability to simply allow its “properly certified and qualified” workers to get on with the job, but instead rely on checkers, and checkers of checkers.

New HS2 cosultations launched

The Department for Transport last week launched two new HS2 consultations, on the project’s draft environmental statement (ES) and a list of 14 significant changes proposed to the outline project design.

According to the consultation documents, the draft ES incorporates a large number of design changes made by HS2 Ltd, including the 14 major amendments.

These 14 changes are being consulted on separately before the Secretary of State decides whether to include them in the HS2 hybrid bill, which is due to be submitted to Parliament towards the end of 2013.

The 14 main changes include a major rethink on how Euston Station will be rebuilt to form the main London terminus of HS2. Rather than reconstructing the whole station in phases, HS2 Ltd is now proposing to retain 13 existing platforms for conventional rail services at Euston and build 11 new platforms for HS2 trains at a lower level.

The revised design adds a further 9km of twin-bore tunnel in north London. Instead of surfacing from tunnel at Old Oak Common and then entering tunnel again 9km further up the line at Northolt, HS2 will now be in tunnel continuously for 14km from Euston to West Ruislip, apart from the location of a station and interchange with HS1 in an open sub-surface box at Old Oak Common.

This change will significantly reduce disruption in the Northholt corridor at comparable cost to the 9km surface section option, the DfT consultation says.

A further 3km of bored tunnel has been added to the route at Bromford in the West Midlands.

This will take HS2 below ground from Castle Bromwich to Washwood Heath, beneath the M6 Bromford Viaduct and avoiding the need for diversion of the River Tame and associated flood alleviation work and preventing major disruption in the area.

Other principal design changes include moving the Colne Valley Viaduct in Buckinghamshire 60m north to reduce disturbance to the River Colne and moving the route 30m away from Water Orton in Warwickshire and 125m away from Chelmsley Wood in Solihull to reduce noise and visual disturbance to residential areas.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Tony Hoyle

    In my view, public sector client teams are too large and there is unnecessary duplication of activity.
    It also seems to me that too much time and effort is spent on intrusive oversight of their supplier's activities.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

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