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Inexperienced British miss major rail projects

NEWS

LACK OF major infrastructure project experience has led to Britain's civil engineers missing out on lucrative contracts to manage Railtrack's major projects (NCE 1 July).

American firms dominate a short list of six programme managers drawn up by Railtrack to manage its nearly £5bn of rail enhancement schemes.

Consultant Mott MacDonald is the only British company without American back up to make it onto the list, which has been cut from 12 to six. The two other British firms on the list, Mace and Kennedy & Donkin, have strong American links.

The list includes:

Jubilee Line Extension and Channel Tunnel Rail Link programme manager Bechtel;

West Coast Main Line programme manager Brown & Root;

American process engineer Fluor Daniel;

Mott MacDonald;

A joint venture between American programme manager O'Brien Kreitzberg and Mace; and

Consultant PB Kennedy & Donkin, which has drafted in senior managers from its American parent company Parsons Brinkerhoff.

Insiders pointed to the limited experience of major projects in this country as the reason for the lack of British success. 'There are many multi-billion pound infrastructure projects in the States. The last one in the UK was the Channel Tunnel,' said one.

'They are looking for companies capable of taking on billion pound schemes and managing dedicated teams of project managers,' said another.

The first round of programme management contracts are believed to total over £1bn in fees. They are to run the £2.2bn West Coast Route Modernisation, £1.5bn East Coast Main Line upgrade, £800M Thameslink 2000 scheme and £200,000 West Anglia Route Modernisation.

Railtrack is now expected to cut the list to three or four in time for a board meeting early in September when major projects director Simon Murray will make his recommendations. A Railtrack spokeswoman said: 'Negotiations are still ongoing.'

ICE chief executive Mike Casebourne was disappointed. 'There have been plenty of opportunities for British engineers to acquire the appropriate track record. It is a shame Railtrack hasn't shown confidence in them,' he said.

Richard Thompson

richardth@construct.emap.co.uk

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