Crossrail - Creating a Lasting Legacy: Part 4

July 6, 2018

Images coutesy of Crossrail.  © Crossrail

New trains, new benefits, new challenges

Crossrail’s trains are a new, first build model with some exciting new features. Constructed from strong but lightweight materials, they also regenerate electricity back into the power supply when they brake. As a result, they use 30% less energy – and they’re faster, too. Inside, the carriages are fully temperature controlled with intelligent lighting, free Wi-Fi and real-time travel information that combine to make journeys easier and more comfortable for passengers.


First of new state-of-the-art Elizabeth line trains welcomed into passenger service in east London and Essex.

From an engineering perspective, their newness meant that there was no previous experience from which to draw in terms of their development. So every stage required careful planning, from design to manufacture and assembly – right down to establishing the weight of each component.

Multiple interfaces

Much of delivering to plan on a project of this scale requires the ability to respond to inevitable changes – and to ensure those changes are communicated to the right people, at the right time. The large number of designers and contractors involved in Crossrail meant there were a huge number of interfaces, and Bechtel’s team realised early on that it needed to understand all of the possible ramifications. For example, if a designer were to make a change to a ventilation shaft specification, how could it ensure this was communicated to, and acted on by the relevant contractors? With this in mind, Bechtel created detailed interface control documents and processes to monitor inputs and outputs on an ongoing basis.

Experience was also a critical factor. Bechtel’s Lih Ling Highe worked on the construction at Tottenham Court Station and describes managing the interfaces between different contractors as a key aspect of her work during the build. “You’ve got different contractors doing different types of work such as ventilation shafts or signalling – and our job was to coordinate them and ensure everyone was on the same page. You need to manage this successfully to make sure work is done efficiently and to the high standard of quality our client expects.”  

Crossrail also strived to employ best practice management and delivery systems in managing the many various contracts involved. They used traditional project management tools – but also went several steps further. They wanted their contractors to do more than simply tick the boxes and meet their compliance requirements. Rather they wanted to motivate them to keep on getting better. With this in mind, the Crossrail team put a raft of measures in place to help contractors improve their performance. They actively engaged with contractors, working with them to evaluate performance and use lessons learned. And they met regularly with contractors’ senior executives in two forums – one focused on health and safety, the other on performance – continually motivating them to do better.

In fact, maintaining motivation was a key challenge across the entire operation. As Bill Tucker explains, “A long job like this one can be wearing. So we worked very hard to keep teams engaged, implementing initiatives such as awards and celebrations that acknowledged individuals who were working to Crossrail’s values.”

Raising standards

This investment in people benefited Crossrail, ensuring that contractors delivered. But at the same time, it was also a long-term investment to raise the bar for the entire industry. And yet, Crossrail didn’t stop there. Crossrail’s vision to leave a legacy and enhance the industry also drove a comprehensive training programme. The team hired over 1,000 apprentices and over 1,000 people took up work experience opportunities, with 4,000+ job starts provided to local or previously unemployed people. More than 10,000 people were given training at a tunnelling and underground construction academy. This facility is currently being converted into a back-up control centre and venue where Rail for London can train its operators and maintenance staff over the life of the railway. The sheer scale of knowledge sharing set yet another new standard for construction in the UK.

Crossrail’s absolute commitment to raising standards informed the entire project, and Bechtel helped manage Crossrail's adoption of two widely recognised sustainable design and construction assessment methods and accreditations. The Civil Engineering Environmental Quality (CEEQUAL) is a comprehensive sustainability rating system for assessing environmental, economic and social performance. Crossrail’s tunnels, portals and shafts have all been rated excellent at design stage under this system. The Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM) is the UK standard for best practice in low carbon and low environmental impact design, construction and operation. This was the first time the BREEAM standard had been applied to underground stations, effectively setting a new benchmark for the industry. And with Crossrail’s new stations rated ‘very good’, the benchmark was set high.

It’s hard to fully grasp all of the various mechanisms that have driven this vast project. But one element of the project goes some way to encapsulating what has made Crossrail such a success – the upgrade to the new line’s pivotal station at Reading.

Making a 19th century station future-fit

Reading Station was built in 1840 and sits at the western end of the Crossrail route. One of the busiest stations outside of London, it has long been highly congested and a major route bottleneck. To increase capacity, the station went through a massive expansion programme that included five new platforms, two new station entrances, four new northern platforms, a new passenger footbridge, viaduct and depot. This was the largest infrastructure change at the station since 1890 and also involved significant signal remodelling.

All the hallmarks of the Crossrail approach were apparent throughout the build. There was the truly integrated team of experienced NR and Bechtel staff which meant there was no client-supplier relationship as such, but rather genuine and close collaboration. There was the effective management of stakeholder relationships, in this case with Reading Borough Council and First Great Western, enabling clear, effective communications throughout. And, there was the emphasis on safety, regarded by all as the cornerstone of performance and a pre-requisite for ensuring the highest quality and efficiency.

All of this, together with the team’s knowledge and their strong relationships with contractors, allowed something rather wonderful to happen. As work progressed, the combination of experience, confidence in both supplier performance and the plan itself, enabled the team to combine the project stages, reducing them from six to just four. As a result, the Reading Station works were completed one year ahead of schedule, saving £120 million from the total baseline cost.

“This project was complex given that we were working on an operational rail system,” explains Ailie MacAdam, Senior Vice President at Bechtel and former Project Director for Crossrail. “However, careful planning and dedication ensured that we were able to get the job done right and safely.”

On budget, on schedule

From design and construction through to testing and handover, Crossrail has been a complex project with big ambitions. The commitment to quality and safety, engagement of highly skilled people, investment in relationships and processes have all combined to make this enormous project such a success. “Building strong relationships is crucial,” says Darren. “And building a collaborative environment takes battles, failures and rebuilding to inspire trust in each other. This doesn’t happen through the contract – it happens over time, through the engagement and resilience of the team.”

For many of those involved in the project, the experience was so positive, they didn’t want it to end. But end it will – on budget and on schedule. Thanks to Crossrail’s emphasis on raising standards and a lasting legacy, its benefits will be experienced by many for decades to come.

Fast facts:

  • 2.5 million m3 of concrete poured
  • 14,000 people working at peak
  • 1.8 million+ miles (3 million+ km) of cable installed
  • 20,000+ tunnel segments
  • 700+ new apprenticeships
  • 1,600 OLE masts installed
  • 40 miles (64km) of enhanced track
  • 7 million tons of excavated material, with 99% of it beneficially reused

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