10 May 2017


The article below was first published in the 10 May edition of Rail Magazine

In order to deliver Europe’s largest construction project at a cost of £14.8 billion, it’s no surprise that Crossrail Ltd needed an exhaustive strategy. With a veritable army of designers, contractors and other stakeholders carefully assembled prior to the first spades being plunged into the ground, the importance was paramount in employing an overarching plan to prevent any of these individual components from losing sight of the project’s main aims. The strategy eventually developed by Crossrail Ltd therefore had several strands. Naturally it featured an outline of the project’s complex delivery programme. But it was a declaration of the company’s vision and values, including a firm and unshakeable commitment to achieving best practice, sustainability and responsible procurement for the duration of the build. The strategy spelt out not only what would be delivered and by when, but crucially how the project would be delivered, in a manner subscribing to these high standards and strict ethical codes.

To execute this strategy, SYSTRA were part of the team with Bechtel and CH2M, appointed to serve as Crossrail’s Project Delivery Partner (PDP) in 2009. From before the start of tunnelling in 2012 right through to the commencement of passenger operations in December 2018, the PDP forms a core part of Crossrail Ltd’s integrated management team, overseeing the development of detailed designs, procurement, construction and commissioning. It is also responsible for managing the consultants and contractors working on all phases of the project, and where Crossrail interfaces with its many external partners and stakeholders, including the likes of Network Rail, London Underground and the National Grid.

Additional day-to-day responsibilities of the PDP encompass rigorous cost and quality control, plus ensuring that all of the obligations and legal conditions set out in the Crossrail Act 2008 are fulfilled. This includes the register of undertakings and assurances that Crossrail Ltd gave to local authorities, heritage and environmental organisations, and other bodies or individuals that made objections during the consultation, which was held before the Crossrail Act was passed. Calling on a wealth of major infrastructure delivery experience, SYSTRA currently assigns 25 of its employees and affiliated consultants from across the globe to the PDP, although its contribution was as high as 80 during peak construction. It has demonstrated the full range of its expertise by providing managers with expertise in a wide variety of areas, including construction, planning and engineering, in addition to cost engineers, project managers, field engineers, document controllers, contract administrators and business managers. With seemingly no limit to the skills SYSTRA is able to call on, it has also provided Crossrail’s lead archaeologist, plus a 4D modelling and a building information modelling (BIM) co-ordinator.

Although involved in all aspects of Crossrail, as part of the PDP consortium SYSTRA has specialised in railway systems. The firm supplies resources for tunnel electrical engineering, overhead line and traction power, signalling, safety systems, communications, quality management, traffic management and co-ordination, site logistics, and noise and vibration attenuation.

Project Field Engineer Howard Crane is PDP Supervisor’s Representative for system wide main works installation. He oversees the fitting out of Crossrail’s 26 miles of tunnels, currently being conducted by the ATC joint venture (formed of Alstom, TSO and Costain). He explains: “My job is to focus on quality assurance and certification. We take forward the design brief and specific cation and make sure the contractors deliver it. With so many contractors self-certifying their work, we provide a collective warranty for the railway, and oversee the work to make sure we’re getting it right. “Our role is to progressively ensure we end up with a compliant railway, and I need to gather a body of evidence to demonstrate that we have delivered. “We scrutinise everything such as a loose bolt or blemish in the concrete, to ensure they are identified and rectified quickly. And we encourage all contractors to raise issues as early as possible.

It’s much easier to deal with a fault sooner rather than later in a project. “The biggest risk to a project of this scale - which can be very repetitive and uses a vast amount of material - is getting products which are inferior, but we’ve avoided this through having robust procedures in place.” Crane supervises a multi-disciplinary team of five inspection engineers. Together, the team has continuously analysed the performance of contractors in order to measure how well the Crossrail supply chain is performing against the project strategy’s vision, values and other deliverables. By enabling contractors to see how they rank, Crane says that an element of competition has been introduced that has resulted in impressive increases in performance.

He adds: “Over the last six years we’ve gathered a lot of data on contractors through performance assurance frameworks, and scrutinising their environmental performance, quality and data management. We’ve been able to create a league table across the entire project where we can see who is operating at a world-class standard, and then who is merely being compliant. “If done right you can incentivise these organisations to do better, as they are very competitive and they know that this is very powerful information for the procurement of future projects.”

With Crossrail over 80% complete, the focus has now shifted towards railway system installation, testing and commissioning, with Crossrail’s Head of Traction Power and OHLE, Xavier de Vimal, who was brought in from SYSTRA France, now extremely busy. In addition to managing all technical aspects of more than 26 miles of overhead conductor rail to energise Crossrail’s fleet of Aventra trains when they begin using the tunnels, de Vimal is also managing the technical interfaces with Network Rail’s overhead line equipment and the delivery of the traction feeder stations that take the power from the National Grid to feed the Crossrail Central Operating Section overhead line and Network Rail’s Great Eastern Main Line overhead line up to Shenfield.

He takes these added complexities in his stride, however, as a powerful example of SYSTRA’s immense range of capabilities. He concludes: “As Head of Traction Power and OHLE, I provide technical assurance to the Crossrail chief engineer for the traction power and overhead electrical line systems. I’m also in charge of delivering the traction power feeder stations that take the power from the National Grid. “For me, the biggest risks are the technical interfaces between the Network Rail and Crossrail overhead line equipment (catenary and contract wires) at Pudding Mill Lane and Westbourne Park, and how to deliver them. “It’s very busy and challenging, but that’s why I like it. The next stage for me is energisation, and then dynamic testing, fault-finding and monitoring. “And, we are all working towards handing over the completed railway to Transport for London next year and look forward to the opening of the Elizabeth Line in December 2018.”

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