Crossrail – Creating a Lasting Legacy: Part 1

July 2, 2018

Images coutesy of Crossrail.  © Crossrail.

On a warm London day in September 2013, a low, rumbling sound could be heard from above the Northern Line platform at Tottenham Court Road underground station. Passengers on the platform may have mistaken it for a distant train. But the truth was something more extraordinary. Above their heads, barely inches away from the crown of the Northern Line tunnel, a 1,000-ton machine was inching its way through the London clay. The tunnel boring machine (TBM) had to navigate a path between the train tunnel below it, and an escalator shaft above it – with less than a metre to spare either side.

Aerial view of Tottenham Court Road station.

This milestone event, grippingly captured in a BBC documentary about the construction, is just one example of the jaw-dropping engineering feats that have characterised Crossrail’s construction from the beginning.

Keeping London moving

First conceived in the 1970s, Crossrail is a new, 73-mile high-speed railway line for London and surrounding areas. It passes through 41 stations, from Abbey Wood and Shenfield in the East, through 13 miles (21km) of twin tunnels under the city itself, and on to Heathrow Airport and Reading in the West. The new Elizabeth Line is scheduled to open Autumn 2019.

Elizabeth Line train makes successful maiden voyage across Southeast London.

The benefits it opens up for the capital are significant. It will increase London’s rail transport capacity by 10%, cut passenger journey times across the city and bring an extra 1.5 million people within 45 minutes of the heart of London. The line will also generate new employment opportunities and contribute around £42m to the UK economy. 

Europe’s largest infrastructure project

When construction began in 2009, Crossrail was Europe’s largest infrastructure project. Bechtel is supporting Crossrail Ltd's management of the project to deliver both for the central tunnel section of the line – and the surface works for its eastern and western stretches. 

The project’s scope has been nothing short of epic. Not only has it involved boring two tunnels under one of the world’s oldest and busiest cities, it included constructing ten new stations, upgrading existing ones – both under and above ground – and extending platforms to accommodate the new, longer high-speed trains. Further extensive works to free up existing bottlenecks and ensure the free flow of trains and passengers along the route added to the complexity.

All of this could be deemed challenging enough on its own. But, as Camilla Barrow (pictured left), Deputy Project Manager for Rail Systems at Bechtel explains,“It’s not just the scale of it – we carried out these major infrastructure works in a city that never sleeps – and on existing railway lines used by millions of passengers every day.”

It also involved a complex mix of stakeholders – from local authorities and businesses, to the communities of each borough, rail operators and so on. There were also many different contractors involved. The Bechtel team supporting Crossrail Ltd's management included staff had been involved in working with London Underground on the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines and they brought this experience with them to working on the Crossrail project’s central section. Bechtel had also been part of the team for the West Coast Route Modernisation project (WCRM), which involved upgrading the 398 mile (640km) rail line between London and Scotland, one of Europe’s busiest mixed traffic railways. Many of Bechtel’s staff moved straight from WCRM to working with Network Rail (NR) on the extensive surface works for Crossrail. This experience was to prove invaluable.

More than a construction project

Over the course of the entire project – covering both the central section and surface works – around 1,200 Bechtel people have been involved at one time or another. While Bechtel drew on its experience and tried and tested systems for the project, Crossrail brought a clear vision enshrined in its core values: Safety, Inspiration, Collaboration, Integrity and Respect. Crossrail didn’t just want to construct a railway – it wanted to leave a legacy that would benefit the entire industry, as well as London’s passengers, for the next 120 years and beyond.

The project was the first of its scale in the UK to consider social, economic and environmental sustainability from day one. This informed every decision at every stage – from design and procurement through to construction and commissioning. Crossrail wanted to minimise the impacts and maximise the benefits. This meant that how the project was undertaken was just as important as the end result. It was an approach that would come to be one of the key factors in the line’s overall success.

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