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Making money work harder

Rail London Tube

London Underground operator Tube Lines is planning to make major efficiencies in its capital spending.

Andrew Mylius finds out how.

Between now and 2011 Tube Lines, the private consortium now running London Underground's Jubilee, Piccadilly and Northern Lines, is pumping £2.2bn into capital projects. Capital spending this year alone will reach £1bn.

Planned capital works spending is three times greater than under the old regime, pre-public private partnership.

And Tube Lines expects to see more than three times the value for its money, says director of projects Jim Haynes.

Introduction of long-term finance and planning is enabling Tube Lines to spread its cash further than London Underground - London Underground was never able to plan work more than a year ahead.

Tube Lines has divided its 30 year operating concession into four chunks of seven and a half years each. It is tackling its infrastructure workload (see box) through framework contracts that will nominally run to the end of the first period.

Assets are being lumped together into packages - seven have been created so far, with another 11 planned, says Tube Lines infrastructure portfolio manager Gary Anderson. Each package is being awarded to a single framework contractor.

Although many of the contractors working for Tube Lines will have been on London Underground's books, the new working arrangement allows them to prioritise and plan work so that one project will seamlessly follow on from the last.

'Packaging work together enables contractors to prioritise it and figure out how to tackle it as efficiently as possible. They can do jobs in one area together, rather than moving around the system, ' says Anderson.

'Our experience is that when guys know where they are going and what job they are doing next they work far harder on the second half of a contract, ' adds Tim Fitch, operations director for Cementation Foundations Skanska (CFS). CFS is carrying out embankment stabilisation under one of the new frameworks. 'We're running one job into another. Once one job reaches implementation stage the engineers can start planning the next, ' Fitch says.

Tube Lines places heavy emphasis on quality, safety and innovation in its selection of contractors. London Underground contractors have in the past produced some dramatic innovations and Tube Lines wants to build on this.

Fitch uses CFS's Cem Rail Beam modular pile cap as a classic example. Developed three years ago, the modular, factory built capping beam has improved productivity on embankment stabilisation work five fold because it reduces the amount of on-site setting out, blinding, reinforcing work and shuttering required, he claims.

The contractor's piling programme has been cut by an average of four weeks and rework is almost eliminated, he says.

'We are now looking for quick gains, ' Fitch continues. 'We are looking to replace structural solutions like retaining walls with soft solutions such as reinforced earth, soil nailing and grouting.'

Contractors can only carry out work on the lines and in tunnels during 'engineering hours' of midnight to 4am and historically work adjacent to lines has also fallen under this rule. Working the frenzied four hour slot is expensive - large numbers of staff are needed and they demand high pay to compensate for the antisocial hours.

Tube Lines is hoping contractors will develop techniques and working methods for surface work adjacent to lines that can be carried out during daylight hours - and ideally without speed restrictions.

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