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West Coast rail contractors fear Bechtel backlash

NEWS

CONTRACTORS ON the £7bn West Coast Main Line (WCML) upgrade fear their senior staff will be replaced by Bechtel personnel after it was announced that the US project manager was to take charge of the project (NCE last week).

They also expressed concern about Bechtel's ability to work within the alliancing consortia set up to run major contracts on the upgrade.

Railtrack announced last Friday that Bechtel would start immediately as leader of an integrated team comprising Railtrack, Parsons Brinckerhoff and WCML consultants.

Tom McCarthy, managing director of Bechtel's rail operations, is to take over from current contract general manager Tony Fletcher, who is leaving Railtrack to join WS Atkins next month.

Costs have soared on the upgrade from an original £2.1bn, to a current estimate of over £7bn. It is understood that the future of the project has to be resolved before Railtrack can be brought out of administration.

One contractor expressed fears that existing alliances with Railtrack, like the one used for the successful Proof House Junction upgrade, would be at risk.

'Bechtel doesn't have a reputation for working closely with contractors, and may find it difficult to fit in to that type of framework, ' he explained.

US programme manager Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) was bought in to replace UK consultant Brown & Root by Railtrack in 1999 for its experience of managing 'complex operational interfaces' (NCE 16 September 1999). But contractors this week said it had failed to deliver.

A director of one major contractor said this week he feared another similar shake up with staff replaced by US managers .

'We do not want to lose the two top levels of management again, ' he said.

He blamed PB's failure to deliver the WCML upgrade on its lack of UK rail experience.

'Here there is a much more complex railway, heavily congested with more than one rail road crossing every few hundred miles.'

He said that UK rail engineering expertise was second to none and stressed that strong management not massive change was required to get the upgrade finished.

McCarthy this week said that Bechtel was 'not here to replace anybody, but to strengthen the management team'.

But one alliance team member said there was bound to be conflict between the two US teams.

Bechtel and PB are joint programme managers on the late running Boston Artery contract in the US, which is already billions of dollars over budget (NCE 1 February 2001).

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