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Transport: Half way there, but no half measures – the lessons that can be learned from Crossrail’s success

With Europe’s largest infrastructure project now half complete, the scale of Crossrail’s challenge – and achievement so far – are becoming clear.

The giant boring machines that will eventually carve out 41.6km of new tunnels beneath London’s streets are making good progress, and in January the project reached the half way point, on schedule and on budget.

A recent National Audit Office (NAO) report concluded that Crossrail is well on target to offer value for money. Given that the organisation tasked with delivering this huge programme only came into formal existence in December 2008, this is an extraordinary achievement.

 

Podium performance right from the starting gun

So how did it do it? And what can we as an industry learn from Crossrail?

Right from the start, Crossrail set out to be world class, engaging a top-flight team of delivery partners who instantly brought in the right combination of skills. This approach also worked for the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), and like the ODA, Crossrail was responsive enough to successfully adjust the skills mix as the project went on. The skillset required at the front end of a major programme like this is not the same as that needed at the delivery and bringing into use phases.

The relationship between client and contractors soon went beyond the merely transactional – members of the supply chain were integrated into the Crossrail team and empowered to feel like stakeholders rather than just suppliers. In part this was enabled by a simple but effective approach to risk sharing. Crossrail and its Tier 1 suppliers struck a simple 50/50 pain-gain deal which gave them both an incentive to succeed.

The programme directors made good use of the skills they had in the core team, but weren’t afraid to seek external help too to deliver their vision.

Crucially, they have carefully measured and assessed performance throughout, investing in process systems and tools that helped them work more efficiently in the short-term while also identifying long-term improvements that can be made.

 

Efficiency all through the supply chain

A robust performance framework has driven efficiency and best practice across the supply chain. The most recent assessment showed that the project’s Tier 1 suppliers and contractors have improved their performance by 44% since the evaluation began.

Right from the start, Crossrail Limited got the fundamentals right – defining a formula for successful delivery that they have continued to implement and drive forward.

In its report, the NAO praised the company and its sponsors for its management of the programme and for taking early action to stop costs escalating.

While there is much work still to be done, if Crossrail sticks to its proven formula for driving supply chain performance, it should overcome future challenges and continue to meet its targets.

 

  • Patricia Moore is rail director at Turner & Townsend

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