At the peak of construction, CTRL group communications manager Lisa Doughty was being woken in the small hours of the morning once or twice a week by complaining members of the public. While most people would obey their instinct to unhook the phone and drift back to sleep, Doughty patiently listened to her caller's grievance, then, once they had hung up, got straight on the phone again to the construction site, to find the cause of the problem. She would then call the complainant back with a status report.
The same story is shared by most members of CTRL's community relations squad.
'If people are being upset, we can't necessarily solve the problem but we can find out what's causing it and let them know what's going on. It's a matter of courtesy, ' Doughty says. 'Local residents shouldn't have to accept any less than the very best we can offer.' Over the eight years that the mammoth project has taken, its community relations team has developed relationships and bonds with the people they interact with. 'You can't help but get close to people.
You get to know what's going on in their lives - about their money problems, family strife, illnesses. . . whatever it may be.
'For some people making a din at night is the last straw.
You didn't create all their other problems, but they'll give you the full blast for everything that's wrong with their lives.' Charged with smoothing the potentially difcult interface between noisy, dusty contractors and nearby residents, Doughty is unequivocal about where her loyalties lie. 'If people are being upset and it's within the contractor's power to do something I'll snap at their heels till it's done. To do this job effectively, from time to time you need to be a Rottweiler.' Doughty was one of the first six Rail Link Engineering (RLE) employees deployed to Camden after section two was given the green light in 2001, charged with getting to know the communities around St Pancras.
'I had to get to know the geography of the area - who was who and what was what.
To help with that I got to know Camden Council's environmental health ofcer and head of planning and got them to explain their concerns, and they were very useful in introducing me to community groups.
'It was clear pretty quickly that there could be language problems. Something like 80% of children at the local secondary school have English as a second language. And people are very territorial. People from one estate would never visit another estate, even if they are next to each other. It meant that you'd always have to hold two separate meetings, one for each community.' To help overcome these challenges RLE put a lot of effort into liaising with local schools, Doughty explains. 'Families want to know what their children did at school. They would say: 'Oh, we learned about the new railway that's being built'. It was a way of getting in touch with parents and spreading news about construction activities and about the longer term economic benet of the railway.' Construction managers were roped in to community meetings so that they could explain what they would be doing and why the work was needed, and so that they understood locals' concerns.
Local councils have played a vital role in good community relations, chairing community meetings in order to ensure, and reassure, that proceedings are impartial. Doughty says: 'Borough councils understand the value of the project and the regeneration it'll bring, but nevertheless they're not a soft touch. If residents are unhappy, they're unhappy.' Camden Council has also been in charge of air quality monitoring, as dust and exhaust pollution were major concerns for residents.
Regular monthly briengs between members of the CTRL team, council officials, community representatives and, now, London Underground, Network Rail and the Metropolitan Police, ensure that all parties know what is going on, and how people feel about it.
Doughty emphasises, though, that there is still no substitute for being able to pick up the phone.
'On section one, Union Railways said that each contractor had to supply a full-time communications person who only dealt with community issues on their patch. We did that again here on section two.' Ex-Metropolitan Police and former military people make the best community relations managers, particularly for the project's inner-city section, Doughty says. 'It sounds like I have a thing about uniforms, but people from the services are used to dealing with all sorts of situations. People we've recruited from the Met, particularly, are used to the physical environment, which is pretty rough, and aren't intimidated. That means they don't bring any prejudice towards the people who live here.' To all intents and purposes, the contractors' community relations managers have been seamlessly integrated with RLE and LCR's. All are answerable to a government-appointed complaints commission, with which they meet regularly. 'This is an unusual team because our common denominator is to solve problems as fast as possible, even though we work for different people. Residents shouldn't be expected to differentiate between contracts. They just need to be able to talk to someone and get an answer, ' Doughty says.
This philosophy was put into full effect when a sink hole opened up behind houses in Lavender Street, Stratford, in February 2003. 'When things go wrong people want to see the top man and CTRL's management has always supported that. If your top man is there to speak with Mrs Bloggs they know you're taking things seriously.
'The Stratford slip happened on a Saturday. Alan Dyke, the then managing director, was straight down there, helping co-ordinate the stabilisation work, explaining the situation to residents and keeping tabs on efforts to nd accommodation for those who needed it.' Doughty says that this set the compensation process off on a positive track. 'Yes, they were emotionally charged, but at the end of the compensation process the leader of the residents' group held a thank you tea party for us. That said a lot.' For some time there has been a visitor centre and exhibition at St Pancras telling the CTRL construction story and explaining what the inauguration of highspeed domestic and international Eurostar train services will bring to the stations along its route. A viewing platform has opened at the terminus, enabling people, by prior arrangement, to peer over the site hoarding at nishing work. New visitor centres will be opened at Ebbseet and Stratford International stations.
'We're getting ready to throw open our doors, ' Doughty says.