Civils firms will begin to compete for £1bn packages of work on High Speed 2 within months, project bosses have pledged.
Prequalification for nine major contracts on phase one of the proposed rapid rail link will start next year, HS2 commercial director Beth West has said.
Two frameworks of prequalified firms will then be drawn up before the client issues invitations to tender for individual tunnelling, surface route and station deals in 2016.
“Our phase one strategy includes large geographical civil engineering packages across two tranches,” West told an audience of potential suppliers in London on Friday.
“We intend to prequalify contractors for [a] whole tranche and subsequently issue invitations to tender for each individual package.”
She added: “In 2015 we aim to commence pre-qualification for both tranches one and two.
“This will be followed in 2016 with the individual invitations to tender for each package of works as well as the first early contractor involvement contract awards.
“We expect the first spade in the ground on our first main works contracts will be in early 2018.”
Tranche one is likely to feature mainly tunnels work on the southern section of the route, while tranche two looks set to consist largely of surface route and new stations in the Midlands.
The hybrid bill to allow construction of phase one of the railway, from London to Birmingham, is at committee stage and anticipated to gain Royal Assent in late 2016.
Earlier HS2 chief executive Simon Kirby had said that some tier one contracts for phase one of the £43bn scheme would be awarded before the Bill was passed.
Kirby said the client planned to procure construction teams on a two-stage design and build basis, with much of the design work taking place ahead of the hybrid bill.
“We are looking at early contractor involvement relationships,” he said. “Before Royal Assent we are planning to do a substantial amount of design activity.
“We won’t be going to [procurement] stage two until we have Royal Assent. But we are looking for relationships to form on stage one.
“Providing all the parties have met certain criteria then stage two will be theirs to lose. The ideal is to procure all tier one contracts at stage one.”
West said the framework system, which will allow rapid selection of contractors from a refined list, was designed after consultation with the industry.
“This responds to your desire for large geographical multi-disciplinary packages and minimisation of pre-qualification,” she said.
Alistair Kirk, programme and strategy director at HS2, said the route had been divided into three sections – south, central and north – with each of these carved into three packages.
The northern section will include two contracts to create the route into Birmingham and one for new stations.
Central contracts will largely be for earthworks and embankments, and the southern deals will focus on tunnelling in London and in the Chilterns.
“We will follow the principle of fewer and larger contracts to allow effective integration and management of risk,” said Kirk. “The value of work in each area will be about £3bn.”
Separate contracts will be awarded for the redevelopment of Euston station for HS2.
“We are still developing the delivery model for Euston station in conjunction with Network Rail,” said Kirk.
He hinted that consortiums were expected to take on many of the major deals.
“Using the central section as an example, we can envisage each of the major three packages being undertaken by joint ventures due to their size and complexity,” said Kirk.