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Punch drunk

Scottish transport spending is at record levels. With projects like the new Forth Crossing and preparation for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games underway, civil engineering's capacity to deliver will be stretched to its limits. Brian Baker reports.

The 130 infrastructure professionals attending NCE's Scottish Transport Engineering event last week heard that the substantial investment programme between now and 2012 would test capacity and skills while providing exciting opportunities for the companies and people involved.

Activity levels are the highest in living memory. There is a massive £3bn programme of road schemes between now and 2011. Of this £450M will be capital investment.

Another £2.1bn is to be spent on rail schemes over the next three years. Of this £1.03bn will be capital investment. More schemes are expected to come out of Scotland's strategic transport projects review for the 2012 to 2022 period. This is due to be delivered to ministers by Transport Scotland before the autumn.

Infrastructure, transport and climate change minister Stewart Stevenson told delegates at the conference that "the better the industry performs the more scope there is for more projects.

"We want to avoid too many projects starting at the same time. Our programme will be staged to attract world class constructors," he said.
Those managing major capital schemes stressed that partnership and innovation would be critical factors if the demanding programme is to be delivered on time and on budget and highlighted "soft" measures too.

Scottish Executive officials are holding up the recently completed £150M Edinburgh Waverley capacity upgrade as an exemplar project for other transport schemes to aspire to.

Network Rail project director Rodger Querns said: "By adopting a pre-planning approach and by analysing in detail the challenges of project complexity together before we went on site we were able to create a climate of solving problems amongst the project team and ensure everyone was thinking about on time and on budget throughout."

"We need to concentrate more on the soft approach elements too," he added. "Partnership and communication were critical. It is important to focus on these people and relationships factors and to avoid contract [disputes] and lawyers!"

Transport Scotland , Colas, Arup and Westinghouse were the project partners with Network Rail on the scheme.

The message on skills in Scotland is mixed. Construction Skills Scottish director Graeme Ogilvy told the conference that: "Scotland needs to recruit another 750 professionals per year [between now and 2012]. At craft level, construction is becoming a career of choice but our problem is in graduate recruitment. People are coming out of university as qualified civil engineers but are not going into civil engineering."

Jacobs head of railways David Reid said that engineers themselves had to take responsibility for solving the skills shortage.

"The industry is not doing enough," said Reid.

"I think we do have the skills [in the transport sector] but we know that water and energy will also be high spending sectors in the near future. We need to use the softer side of what Scotland can offer for quality of life to bring in and retain people here."

More must be done to give young professionals opportunities to go elsewhere and learn more and there is an urgent need for more to be done to promote the industry in schools and universities, added Reid.

But Halcrow Scottish regional director Donald Bell warned that student debt was forcing graduates to look for the highest starting pay.

Part of the new SNP government's solution to cope with heavy workloads has been to encourage greater planning and cross referencing of schemes, especially in the transport sector.

For example, the Edinburgh Waverley project was altered to include the overhead electrification of lines on Network Rail's Airdrie-Bathgate scheme. In turn, detailed design planning for that scheme is taking account of the newly approved proposals to electrify all of the 76km Glasgow-Edinburgh main line between 2011 and 2015.

This will ensure that while most of the route is designed for trains running at 130km/hr, the section that aligns with the Glasgow-Edinburgh route is designed to take trains travelling up to speeds of 175km/hr.

Ministers have brought forward and approved the Glasgow-Edinburgh main line scheme and the new Forth Crossing from the review of possible strategic projects for the 2012 to 2022 period.

It is expected that the Forth Crossing, a cable-stayed bridge, may be on site before 2012 and other schemes, including the Glasgow to Edinburgh rail upgrade could also be advanced.

This provides the prospect of continuous flows of available work and is likely to stimulate interest in the Scottish market.

"We are doing anticipatory work and should be ready to move ahead with projects quickly in 2012. We will not run out of work in the civil engineering sector," Stevenson told NCE.

He emphasised that there would be support for smaller schemes around Scotland too. " The Strategic Review is about priorities for schemes at national level. Many other projects will be important locally and we need to find ways to support those to make them happen."

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