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Planning the airport rush

Rail Singapore Metro

A UK contractor has almost completed its contract on a metro link that will cut transit time between Singapore airport and the city centre to less than 30 minutes.

Innovation and planning have been the vital ingredients in a successful contract for Balfour Beatty in the sweltering heat of Singapore. After 41 months the job is nearing completion, following the achievement of 24 key dates throughout the contract.

Announced by deputy prime minister Lee Hsien Loong in 1996, the Changi Airport Line is a £570M project linking the airport to the city.

Two years later Balfour Beatty Rail Projects, in joint venture with Gammon Construction, was awarded the £16.5M contract to design, supply and construct the conductor rail system on a 6km extension from Tanah Merah to Changi Airport, 4.3km of which is underground.

Project manager for the JV John Latham explains that the success of the contract was down to good planning - 'the key to all rail contracts'.

For each work operation, the JV compiled a staging plan, laying out on paper exactly what had to be done, in a series of diagrams and photos.

These, says Latham, proved invaluable. They were used to explain sequences to client the Land Transport Authority (LTA), to detail construction methods to JV site staff, and then to show the supervisors and labour exactly what was required of them.

For a series of sidings for example, the JV meticulously set down the plans in stages. Each stage detailed what lengths of track had to be laid, in which order; and a brief explanation of why.

Another practice where the process was particularly useful was for the routing of cables. At each location where there was a clash or obstruction a photograph was attached with a description of the proposed solution to the problem.

This way, Latham explains, instead of having to take the client's representative out on site to discuss the solution, the site team could simply show him the photograph and the proposal and come to an agreement. The same pictures then helped the quantity surveyor price any variations to the contract payments.

A similar approach was used to train and instruct the labour force, most of which was imported from Thailand and had little or no construction experience.

This had obvious safety implications, as the imported workers did not necessarily understand the importance of safe working practice in a railway environment.

The JV adopted an active safety management system in line with Balfour Beatty's UK operations.

This established safe working methods, which included working on operational railways.

A set of safety boards with pictures of good and bad practices was devised. The operatives had to answer 'yes' or 'no' to the questions posed by the pictures.

This was found to be a very effective training tool when communications in different languages and cultures can be a problem.

In fact, towards the end of the contract, the safety training given by the JV earned the team a client safety award, presented in recognition of the efforts to promote international best practice in health and safety.

Innovation also helped the contract to run on time and to plan.

A new rail fastening system was used, following agreement from the client. The doubleclipped Pandrol Fastclip system is expected to require less maintenance and gives a greater degree of resilience than traditional systems, as well as allowing vertical adjustment of the rails.

But before the JV was allowed to use the Fastclips it had to gain design approval from the client.

A test track was set up in the operational railway and used for three months; and Pandrol is also required to monitor the performance of the system for the next five years.

An innovative conductor rail clamping system was also developed. Traditional systems have metal supports that clamp the conductor rail in place. As the conductor rail moves and vibrates the metal clamps tend to wear. This means the whole support arm eventually needs changing.

The system employed for this contract has a resilient plastic spacer that fits between the support and the conductor rail. This means that only the spacer gets worn and needs replacing, reducing maintenance time and costs.

'Again, the client demanded onerous specifications, ' says Balfour Beatty Railway Projects operations director Paul Copeland, 'but we have built a reputation with the LTA for meeting its requirements'.

Gammon Construction is a leading general civil engineering contractor in the region. It has worked with Balfour Beatty in joint ventures in Asia for 25 years, an arrangement that cemented great trust.

Latham explains that this was a telling factor. Balfour Beatty took charge of materials purchasing, while Gammon handled the accounts. This was a set up that required trust but meant the most appropriate staff could be selected for all disciplines.

Some materials proved more difficult to obtain than others.

Timber sleepers, of which 12,000 were laid, proved especially problematic, because of the client's tight specification.

Sleepers had to be of a very high quality, to an exact size and treated by a very specific method. Latham had to travel to Malaysia to source and oversee their manufacture.

The wood had to be taken from certain trees in nominated forests, cut in a certain way and treated by specialists.

Liaising with suppliers and subcontractors was made easier by the fact that the site team had a lot of experience working in Asia; and, equally importantly, was made up of experienced rail contractors.

This had its downside: the explosion of rail work in the region meant other contractors would try to poach staff.

The problem also applied to imported labour, who once trained became extremely useful assets. Accommodating the labour force in clean and comfortable camps on site helped to keep staff happy and loyal, says Latham.

All rail plant used on the contract had to be bought. It was then refitted on site by experienced fitters from the UK, who Latham describes as invaluable to the contract success.

In the tunnel concrete slab track construction was used, as opposed to timber sleepers outside. This meant that during track bed construction concrete had to be pumped up to 1.5km. A specialist pump fitter was brought in, who ensured blockages on the Putzmeister pump were never a problem - essential with heat and time constraints.

The Changi Airport Line will be open by the end of the year. It will serve the airport and Singapore Expo, a massive new exhibition complex with a Foster designed station.

The contract in detail Ulu Pandan depot Provision of seven sidings totalling approximately 1.4km of ballasted plain lines, six turnouts and the associated conductor rail system.

Mainline viaducts Provision of 3.5km of ballasted plain line, four turnouts and the conductor rail system.

Changi depot Five sidings totalling 1.3km of ballasted plain line, and five turnouts and conductor rail system.

Tunnel tracks 9km of bored tunnel and cut and cover tunnel concrete slab tracks, with four turnouts; and conductor rail system.

Upper Changi Road staging area Installation and removal of five temporary sidings and associated turnouts, forming the staging area from where the JV operates.

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