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Triumph of teamwork


West Rail is gearing up for an autumn 2003 opening after passing key milestones during the peak construction phase last year.

Hong Kong's KowloonCanton Railway Corporation (KCRC) is just under 18 months away from openingWest Rail, its newest railway line. Just four years after the project got the official go ahead, civils work is more than 90% complete and the overall project is 72% finished.

When it opens in autumn 2003, the 30.5km West Rail line will provide a vital new link between downtown Kowloon and a chain of new towns in the North West New Territories. Trains will run on a 13.4km viaduct - the longest built in Hong Kong, and through 14.7km of tunnels. Tunnelling has included the drill and blast Tai Lam structure which at 5.5km is the Special Administrative Region's longest transportation tunnel.

The line will serve nine stations with trains able to make the trip from Tuen Mun to Nam Cheong in 30 minutes. It will also interchange with Mass Transit Railway (MTR) lines at Mei Foo and Nam Cheong at the Kowloon end and with KCRC's light rail system.

As construction work comes to an end, KCRC is also well into preparations for the start of rail services. 'An operational readiness plan and programme has been developed to provide a road map and tracking system towards achieving smooth operation on day one, ' says West Rail director Ian Thoms. 'Activities covered by the operational readiness plan and programme are essentially all those items that are not part of the project works deliverables, but are necessary for day one operation.'

The plan sets out objectives for each part of the West Rail organisation, for external government bodies and for other parts of KCRC affected by the project. It is a fluid document which is updated in the light of unfolding events. Teams of West Rail staff will be responsible for getting the line open on time, headed by a high level operational readiness steering committee chaired by KCRC chief executive KY Yeung. This works with an operational readiness working group headed by Thoms and a government services readiness task force.

Over the last 12 months, contractors have cracked the civil works programme despite delays caused by unforeseen ground conditions at two stations and flood risks at two more, being constructed in stormwater relief channels, or nullahs.

As the civils programme has drawn to a close, new challenges have arisen as follow on trades and railway systems contractors have begun to appear on site.

This phase of the project is providing the first real test for the interface management strategy, devised by KCRC to anticipate the knock on effects of late running contracts.

KCRC's plan was to make sure everyone involved in the project agreed on the timescales for handing over completed construction work to the plethora of follow on teams, ranging from electricians and track laying teams, to signalling systems contractors and escalator installers.

This was done through KCRC's partnering approach to project management.

With 13,000 staff and site operatives and 56 contracts in full swing, of which 36 are worth more than HK$50M (US$6.4M), the project requires a dedicated level of co-ordination and communication to allow vital information to flow freely.

This was done during the programme of quarterly review meetings (QRMs) held by KCRC as a forum for brainstorming problems and anticipated setbacks with contractors of all disciplines. KCRC also used the forum to get everyone agreed on timescales and deadlines.

'Having contractors explain their problems and systems contractors explain their views is definitely the way forward, ' says Thoms.

Encouraging problem sharing and discussion is not just confined to the three monthly QRMs. Senior KCRC West Rail team members make sure they are available to help contractors with more pressing problems.

'From my perspective, I make myself available to everybody who is involved in the project.

Contractors and site supervisory staff are welcome to ring me any time of the day or night, ' says KCRC general manager, construction Jaya Jesudason.

While he may delegate problems to colleagues, Jesudason is there as a conduit for helping people on the project find the right person to help solve particular problems. 'Basically I am available so that people can explain their problems. Normally I give a suggestion or find someone who can sort the problem out for them, ' he says.

As the project has progressed, KCRC has also used the QRMs to help its contractors reprogramme work to minimise disruption when construction work has not gone as well as expected.

One area where this approach has helped has been in the testing of the West Rail trains and signalling systems. Originally this was to have been done on track running west from the depot at Pat Heung near Kam Sheung Road station to Yuen Long station in the New Territories. But late running work at Yuen Long meant that track could not be handed over in time.

However tunnel work running south of Kam Sheung Road to Tsuen Wan West station had finished on time, so it was decided to use track in the tunnel for testing instead, says West Rail general manager railway systems (acting) Leo Mak.

All this detailed planning has been going on against a fast track construction and systems development programme.

'Production and testing of systems was happening concurrently with the civils work last year, ' says Mak. The idea is to iron out as many bugs as possible in the interface between the different systems, such as that between trains and signals, before full scale testing starts on West Rail.

To this end, KCRC has been using a East Rail loop track, which serves Sha Tin racecourse on race days, to test run signalling systems and early batches of West Rail trains, which are being supplied by the Japanese Itochu-Kinki SharyoKawasaki consortium.

Keeping the project on schedule and to budget has meant working with contractors to solve problems as they arise, rather than allowing disputes and claims to fester until the end of the project. This has involved getting contractors from across the project to work in teams to solve common problems during the QRMs.

'At the end of the year I was very satisfied with what we had achieved, ' says KCRC senior director, capital projects James Blake. 'There is no doubt that the QRM process enabled us to look at problems and identify achievable targets for the quarter. That way there was no doubt about what the client wanted in anyone's mind, ' he says.

KCRC also used the meetings to reschedule delayed work, recognising that it might have to share costs of speeding up work.

'We've taken a very proactive role in terms of how we've communicated with contractors and addressed their claims and variations, ' says West Rail general manager, project support Alan Donnet.

The aim so far has been to work out ways of catching up lost time instead of imposing liquidated damages as a matter of course.

For instance some contracts could insist on a contractor making a defined number of rooms in a station available by a certain date to allow a railway systems contractor to start work. But access may not be needed to all of these rooms at once, so KCRC takes the view that so long as rooms that are needed are ready, and there is no delay or disruption, the liquidated damages need not apply.

This flexible project management approach has worked well so far. Final accounts are all but settled for two of the viaduct contracts, one of the stations, and the two tunnel contracts.

West Rail has also remained within budget, with the current estimated cost of £4.1bn, reflecting a second downward adjustment. Lower costs are explained by lower than expected inflation, lower construction, land acquisition and financing costs, value engineering cost savings and a stringent control for managing project costs. 'The cost control system for West Rail enables the management to identify problem areas early and to initiate timely corrective action so as to maximise the chances of completing the project within the established budget, ' says Donnet.

The only threat to this way of working has come from a Hong Kong Legislative Council probe into extra payments arising from these negotiations, or 'supplemental agreements' as they are known.

These are deals struck between client and contractor to resolve issues which threaten to delay the project. They can also tackle unexpected problems created by third parties, including other contractors or government departments.

So far, the cumulative cost of supplemental agreements across the whole project has run to more than £136M - a figure which has attracted some criticism from LegCo lawmakers despite the fact that it accounts for a relatively small amount of the entire project value.

Thoms strongly defends KCRC's right to strike such agreements and says it has been fundamental to good contractor relations, to keeping the project on schedule, and to keeping the project within budget.

'The benefit of supplemental agreements is that they clear the air and take the vitriol out of the situation, so that people are focused on looking forward rather than looking back, ' says Thoms.

The results speak for themselves. West Rail is currently on track to open three months early in Septemer 2003, subject to KCRC board and government approvals, and the project is still sticking to its £4.1bn budget.

Already track laying is 80% complete. Nearly half of the lifts and escalators for the nine West Rail stations are being installed, the tunnel ventilation system is almost 60% complete and 30% of the overhead power system is in place.

Northern section contractors Kam Sheung Road Station:

Necsco Entrecanales Cubiertas Pat Heung Maintenance Centre:

Costain-China Harbour JV Yuen Long/Long Ping stations:

Amec-Hong Kong Construction Tin Shui Wai Station: Chun WoFujita-Henryvicy Siu Hong/Tuen Mun stations:

HKACE JV (Hong Kong Construction, Amec International, China Railway Construction and China Everbright Holdings) Northern section consultants Yuen Long section: Ove Arup & Partners Hong Kong Tuen Mun section: Maunsell Consultants Asia West Rail depot: Parsons Brinckerhoff (Asia) Piling work finished in September and since then, the contractor has flooded both sites with construction workers to catch up lost time. At peak last year, the two sites employed around 1,000 workers and lost time was caught up, thanks to the extra numbers and tight site management.

The stations are being constructed next to densely populated high rise housing, so night working between 7pm and 7am is severely restricted.

Careful planning was also needed to ensure that tower cranes are used as efficiently as possible,

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