Delivering the £14.8bn challenge that is Crossrail will be no mean feat over the next few years but, according to the man charged with overseeing the engineering aspects, having the right team is the key. Claire Symes reports.
Urban construction projects are always complex because of the need to balance logistics and programme delivery with safety - both of those working on the site and those trying to use roads and pavements around it.
Add tunnelling to the mix and replicate the scenario right across a capital city and you start to get a feel for the challenges facing the client, consultants and contractors working on construction of Crossrail.
The man charged with overseeing coordination between the different contracts, and ensuring it is built safely, on time and to budget is Crossrail chief engineer Chris Dulake. While it may seem like a monumental task, his calm demeanour suggests that it is one he can handle and that he relishes.
“Working on tunnelling projects is demanding - you end up living and breathing the project and get very absorbed in it,” he says. “It can be a challenge to balance this kind of job with your home life, which is why it is essential to build the right team to deliver a project like Crossrail.
“We are so busy at the moment that it can be hard to break away and this will become more difficult as the work starts to run 24/7. But we have an emergency response and management plan in place that gives us confidence that we can cope with all eventualities,” he says.
Dulake says his main responsibility so far has been to set up a system for managing and maintaining the design configuration during the construction delivery.
“The contractors are there to do the building work but we needed to build a robust control document for the interface between designs and the different contracts,” he says. The team is formed of two managers of engineering who coordinate work with the individual engineering managers for each contract.
“It can be a challenge to balance this kind of job with your home life which is why it is essential to build the right team to deliver”
The designers work under the engineering managers on each contract to deal with the information requests and changes from contractors. Dulake says that there is a programme of checking and assurance throughout.
There are also heads of engineering function who feed essential information to Dulake.
They control work such as architecture, geotechnics, structural engineering and underground construction. He also has a business team to manage the contracts
Crossrail’s design is now finished, although there are some threads, such as Bond Street station, that are continuing because Crossrail has to interface with other developments. The work is now moving into the technical advice stage.
“There are only three reasons why there should be design changes at this stage,” explains Dulake. “The first is if the contractor can deliver a significant value engineering that will save £5M or more, the second is if new information is discovered that impacts on delivery of the planned design and the final, most important one, is if there is a safer way of carrying out the work.”
Dulake’s team currently runs to 100 people and is reaching its peak with just a few more engineering managers and assistants to recruit.
“The shape of the organisation is changing and we have to organically move as the project develops from design to construction,” he says. “The next shift will be to the delivery stage in four years’ time when the system checks start.”
Crossrail also has supervisors who report into Dulake on matters of assurance of construction design and quality and will eventually enable him to sign off sections of the construction before handing them over to the infrastructure maintainer.
A look at Dulake’s curriculum vitae gives you a good idea of why he is the right man for the job. He has held key roles on projects such as the Dublin Port Tunnel, New York’s Second Avenue Subway and High Speed 1 under his belt. Dulake studied civil engineering at Southampton University.
“It was very hard work but I enjoyed it,” he says. “I originally considered studying architecture but my academic strengths lay in mathematics and the sciences.
Civil engineering is a very broad degree that opens up a lot of opportunities and I’m not sure that current students recognise the potential a civil engineering degree offers.”
After graduation in 1986, he joined Tarmac’s graduate programme. “I wanted to understand how things were built but I was very interested in design so I moved to working for a consultant and gradually worked my way through the different disciplines to gain a better understanding of the sector,” he says.
This drive to understand led Dulake to work on water supply, sewerage, highways, bridge and geotechnically-focused schemes. “Geotechnics was my favourite but I also enjoyed working on structures,” says Dulake.
He says working on below ground schemes combines both of those sectors nicely and that has driven his career.
After gaining experience at Travers Morgan, he went to work for Babtie, Bechtel, Arup and Faber Maunsell (now Aecom). He has worked on a number of notable tunnelling schemes including the Dublin Port Tunnel and the Jubilee Line Extension.
But there are two schemes that stand out in Dulake’s mind as highlights in his career so far. “I led the underground construction elements of the King’s Cross redevelopment for Arup and greatly enjoyed the intricacy of the construction,” he says.
“I originally considered studying architecture, but my academic strengths lay in mathematics and the sciences”
But it was the next scheme he worked on that pushed Dulake’s knowledge of working on tunnelling projects - he helped to deliver the design and build solution for the Marmary project to build 12km of new railway line below Istanbul.
“It was a very challenging with the tight timeframe for the delivery, as well as the technical challenges,” he says. “It was a fantastic opportunity.”
In 2005 he moved to Aecom and worked on projects that he describes as similar to Crossrail all around the world. But it was the opportunity to deliver a world-class project on his doorstep that lured him back to working in the UK. He joined Crossrail in 2008 directly from Aecom.
Living near Shenfield, Essex, Dulake will ultimately benefit when the project is completed but until then he is happy to be working on the scheme.
“I have a young family so it is good to be working in London as it is less disruptive for them,” he says. But it is clear that working on Crossrail provides him with the professional challenge he appears to thrive on.
The end date for his current challenge on Crossrail is 2018 but Dulake says he doesn’t know at this point whether he will be the “last man standing” as much of the engineering work will be completed before then. It is clear that although he has his eye on the upcoming milestones, Dulake is very much focusing on the job in hand.
Day to day, Dulake makes a point of going out onto site and being hands on when it comes to understanding the stage work has reached and the challenges on the ground.
On the day GE interviewed him, he was heading to Royal Oak and then on to visit Bond Street. He and project director Andy Mitchell share sole responsibility for signing off the readiness to dig conditions that contractors must satisfy before commencing work.
Looking ahead to the next four years of ramping up of activity on site, Dulake says there will be major challenges despite the level of design already completed. “Some of the caverns will be complex and the use of sprayed concrete as a primary lining will be the largest use of this technique so far,” he says.
“The sprayed concrete lining (SCL) represents a major cost benefit as it avoids installing a temporary lining and then replacing it with permanent lining, so the thickness is 25% less but making sure it meets temporary work requirements does make the management more complex.”
Key achievements so far have been the procurement of all the major tunnelling contracts by 2011 and developing an engaged supply chain.
“Although we have been quite prescriptive in the designs that the contractors will deliver, it is important that they ‘own’ the method,” says Dulake. “Use of optimised contractor involvement (OCI) has been a key part in this ownership.”
One of the main OCI changes has been a rethink of the approach to restoring and refurbishing the Connaught Tunnel in east London. As a result, part of the dock above the tunnel will be drained and the tunnel exposed to reduce the risks. Dulake says that the station procurement process is reaching its mid-way stage, but completion of the Canary Wharf Station box was a real milestone.
It is clear from the work at Canary Wharf that Dulake has developed good relationships with the contractors - the Canary Wharf team sent him a postcard of them all sitting in deckchairs in the box when they completed the work.
The Olympics will also bring other challenges - some parts of the project will be shut down during the games and Dulake’s team is working with Transport for London to minimise the impact on the construction programme and to prevent the work impact on travel during the Games.
This time next year, Dulake expects 13km of tunnels to have been bored and 1.2km of SCL tunnel to be completed. “This will be the real proof of the design,” he says. “All the instrumentation and monitoring is in place and the baseline information is there - the anticipation is high.”