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Right this time

Is it possible to finish a major civil engineering project on time and to budget? Antony Oliver visits two of the biggest civils contracts on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link to find out.

On time and to budget - no problem, according to Alan Myers, Union Railways South's contract manager for the North Down Tunnel and new Medway Crossing on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

Myers is also aiming for the lowest accident and injury figures in the industry, hoping that this project raises eyebrows for all the right reasons.

He has had his fill of attracting attention for all the wrong reasons. He joined URS last October from Balfour Beatty after spending four years as project director on the troubled Heathrow Express project.

Borrowing a phrase used so often by BAA, Myers' former client, he insists that the mindset on the job is now firmly fixed on the end product.

'We are building a railway business not just a track, tunnels and bridges,' he says. 'Getting every member of the construction team focused on this end product is key to our success.'

Experience gained on the HEX project was invaluable. The project recovery at HEX after the tunnel collapse in 1994 was a model of single team working and mutual decision making - it had to be. BAA's insistence on achieving the end product drove the project and ensured that it was only brought into service six months late.

Transferring that same togetherness and mutual benefit is possibly harder under 'peace-time' conditions. But Myers is confident that the project set-up and the NEC target cost contract mean they have the right people with the right incentives and rewards in place to do the job.

'The contractor has a significant financial incentive to get the cost below 90% of the target,' says Myers. 'Under the contract he is spending our money and if we have to instruct him to carry out extra work it will mean spending his money. Working together we help each other.'

But Myers is keen to point out that the benefits are not just financial: 'Our safety record is already three times better than the industry average, but we must do better to achieve our zero [reportable] accident target.'

CTRL contracts 350 and 410 certainly contain more pure civil engineering work than any other on the first section of the CTRL project. The Medway Crossing [350] is a 1.2km long incrementally launched viaduct and central balanced cantilever structure. The North Downs tunnel [410] is a 3.2km single bore structure through the chalk constructed with a sprayed concrete lining. In between around 1Mm3 of muck will be shifted to create 4km of high speed rail alignment.

And although let as two separate contracts, they have since been rolled into one for simplicity. The Eurolink consortium, a joint venture between Miller Civil Engineering; French contractor Dumez GTM; and Austrian tunnelling specialist Beton & Monierbau, is building both but now treats the two as a single £110M contract.

The 'single team' is becoming an almost over-used phrase on the job. But over-used because of the significance of what the project is trying to achieve - finishing on time and to budget. This team insists it will not be troubled in the way the Channel Tunnel, Jubilee Line Extension or Heathrow Express projects were.

The latter reference is particularly resonant for the team. On Contract 350/410 Myers works alongside Eurolink project manager Andy Sindle, another veteran of Balfour Beatty's infamous project. However, Sindle stresses that, for him, the most significant, and most rewarding, part of that job was working closely with client BAA, designer Mott MacDonald and fit- out contractor Laing-Bailey to pull the job back from post-collapse oblivion.

Having leapt out of the Balfour Beatty fold, Myers and Sindle could be considered to have joined teams on opposite sides of the fence. Not on this project, assures Sindle - single team working is ingrained into both. 'Alan and I work very closely to identify and solve planning and technical problems together,' he says. 'But that doesn't absolve anyone from taking control of their own responsibilities.'

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