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Managing a project with many masters

01 May 1999

INTRO: Ken Turnbull of Bechtel, who is Project Director of Rail Link Engineering, told Richard Hope how the £4bn Channel Tunnel Rail Link survived last year's crisis, and is now running smoothly despite complex client-contractor relationships resulting from the rescue deal reached in June 1998

JUST 12 MONTHS AGO, the fate of the long planned high speed railway joining central London to the Channel Tunnel hung in the balance. It was saved only by the personal efforts of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who announced a rescue package on June 3 and turned the first sod on October 15 1998.

Government guaranteed bonds to a total value of £2·65bn were sold by promoter London & Continental Railways in February, enabling Prescott to announce financial close of the rescue package on February 18. Now it is up the engineers to complete Section 1 from Eurotunnel's UK terminal to Fawkham Junction, where Eurostars from Paris and Brussels will join Railtrack's existing network to reach London Waterloo.

Charged with designing both sections of the CTRL, while ensuring that the contractors hand over Section 1 in October 2003 within the Target Price of £1·7bn, is Ken Turnbull, Project Director of Rail Link Engineering. Turnbull is a senior executive with Bechtel, which has a 50% stake in RLE; the other partners are Arup, Halcrow and Systra.

Channel Tunnel first; now CTRL

A Bechtel team was heavily involved in managing the Channel Tunnel project, having been brought in by Sir Alastair Morton after he was appointed Co-Chairman in 1987.

Planning for a Channel Tunnel Rail Link dates back to 1973, when the government accepted in principle the case for constructing a 250 km/h line electrified at 25 kV to a new terminus at White City in west London. It died with the Tunnel project in 1975.

Four possible CTRL routes were published by British Rail in 1988. After the 1990 setback, the present route was suggested by engineering consultants Arup and chosen by the government in 1991. A further bidding process saw London & Continental Railways selected in February 1996 to build a line passing under the River Thames 30 km east of London and terminating at St Pancras. Construction was to commence in September 1997 with completion set for March 2003.

The construction cost was estimated at £4bn, and LCR was promised assets as well as grants valued by the government at £1·4bn. In return, LCR took over Eurostar (UK) Ltd, which was (and still is) loss-making, and Union Railways, the company established by BR to plan the CTRL. Union Railways Ltd (URL) now acts as the client for the engineering and construction of the project (p285).

The original engineering and finance team from Bechtel, Arup, Halcrow and Warburg were joined by National Express, Virgin and later by SNCF's consultancy arm Systra and London Electricity to make up LCR.

To act as arm's length designers and project managers, London & Continental Engineering was formed, comprising Bechtel, Arup, Halcrow and Systra.

The Reference Design was the basis on which LCR had bid. It was also the foundation for the Development Agreement with government that set out what LCR must do. 'Through this, the client LCR set the scope of the project and implemented it through its URL subsidiary - until the January 1998 crisis'.

Near death experience

On January 28 last year, Prescott announced that he had rejected a plea from LCR for £1·2bn of extra public funding. LCR faced insolvency. In addition to Eurostar losses continuing at a higher level than planned, Turnbull attributes the collapse to the fact that 'the financial institutions, through their technical advisers, were clearly looking for much higher contingencies on construction costs than LCR had assumed at the time of its bid.

'By January, I had around 850 staff on the project. The tunnel boring machines had been selected, we were ready to award contracts for three of the four major civil packages, and April had been fixed as the official start date.' While desperate efforts were being made to put a rescue package together, Turnbull 'had to let 450 people go ... we had to work on the assumption that LCR would be out of business by May.'

Fortunately, the government was persuaded that work securing planning consents from local authorities should continue whilst the rescue package was being negotiated. 'In May, when the lights were switched back on, the team that had been doing consents could be added to, so we accelerated rapidly back up to the 800 people that we have in RLE now.'

Meanwhile, Bechtel had been appointed to represent LCR shareholders in negotiations with Railtrack over the rescue package which required CTRL to be built in two stages. 'At RLE we revised the construction plans to allow for this, and Railtrack and the government accepted these in April. We said construction could start in October 1998, which was achieved, so we only lost six months - quite a short delay when you think what had happened.'

URS becomes the S1 client

Though URL still exists, its role has been taken over by two new entities: Union Railways South is responsible for Section 1, and Union Railways North for Section 2.

Still legally owned by LCR, which is funding construction through its bond issues, URS is for all practical purposes a Railtrack subsidiary. URN, along with URL, is headed by retired Bechtel executive Walt Bell, whose last job was on the Seoul - Pusan high speed line in Korea.

Turnbull explains that RLE takes instructions from Chris Jago who has been appointed Managing Director of URS. Railtrack is clearly interested in what happens on Section 2, but has no locus to issue instructions to Bell until it exercises the option to purchase it. The latest possible date for this is June 1 2003.

The government is represented through its Project Representative, consulting engineers Mott Parsons Gibb. The PR's task is to ensure that LCR, URS and URN implement the Development Agreement, for example by complying with environmental conditions. In practice, Railtrack's decisions - on train control, for example - must affect the design of both sections, and staff exchange between URS and URN as necessary.

Meanwhile, Turnbull says that RLE will continue the process of engineering design and obtaining planning consents for Section 2, as well as supporting a fully funded land acquisition programme and preparing early contract documents. He believes that some construction will commence in July 2001, even if Railtrack defers a decision until 2003. 'In the meantime, Section 2 will have been in construction for two years, so there is an overlap.'

The Bechtel Way

RLE has contracts with URS and URN to deliver the project to time and budget. 'We will share in any overrun or underrun, so we are motivated to accomplish this work on schedule and at lowest cost. It is important that safety, quality, cost and schedule are all issues that are well understood, along with the risks that go with them.'

Whereas Eurotunnel appointed separate design consultants, Turnbull states firmly 'We much prefer CTRL implementation to be hands on and to have control.' The philosophy which Turnbull sees as 'a natural order is the client has an idea of what he wants, and uses RLE to expand on his ideas and produce the design. We take that information and turn it into a procurement process which gets the best people constructing the job. Then we manage the contractors.'

Another aspect of RLE's approach to a major project like CTRL is to spend a lot of time planning the logistics, so that when powers to acquire the land are being sought, construction sites and access issues have been properly thought through.

One aspect of this careful preparation was upset by last year's decision to build the line in two sections. Ballast and other materials were to have been delivered by ship to the Swanscombe peninsular, adjacent to the Thames tunnel. This is no longer possible as access is in Section 2, so the ballast will be unloaded at Grain and railed to Beechbrook Farm 6 km west of Ashford where existing and new railways run side-by-side.

Contracts drawn up by RLE and awarded by URS are on a target cost basis using a modified version of the new engineering contract reimbursable basis.

'Once a target cost is agreed', says Turnbull, 'the contractors come into the office and review the design we have prepared over a couple of years. If they see a way of reducing the cost by changing the design, and we are convinced, we share the saving.'

Likewise, 'down at site level, the contractor's team and our team will come up with ways of reducing costs. It's very important on a project as large as this to bring the contractor in on the project, and make him feel part of the team.'

Avoiding safety pitfalls

The Channel Tunnel and some other major rail projects have fallen foul of ever rising safety standards, which can have a major impact on capital and operating costs when coming late in the schedule.

Turnbull concedes that is 'a possibility on CTRL'. However, 'in order to manage the risk of that happening, we are getting HM Railway Inspectorate to advise us as we go that they see no objection to the designs we are producing. When we produce the safety case, as they have been through the process with us, HMRI are more likely to agree it.' He also adds that the reference design prepared by URL on which the four short-listed consortia (including LCR) bid in 1995 'included a letter of non-objection from HMRI'.

RLE also had to take account of developments following the major fire in the Channel Tunnel in November 1996. Turnbull highlights two things that changed.

'One was the fire resistance of tunnel linings.' This was achieved by replacing steel bar reinforcing with steel and polypropylene fibres. 'We have undertaken tests to show that this is beneficial', he says.

'The other issue which we have taken on board is simplification of the tunnel ventilation system. In the unlikely event that evacuation from a train in the London tunnels becomes necesary, cross passages have been located at predetermined stopping locations close to the ventilation and fire services intervention shafts. This applies in particular to the two twin-bore tunnels from Dagenham to St Pancras, which are 20 km long with an open box for Stratford station in the middle; the other tunnels do not require forced ventilation.

Turnbull points out that 'we and URL are fundamentally involved in the design process, so our programme is tailored to completing the safety case process successfully. n

CAPTION: Formation taking shape between the North Downs tunnel (left of view) and the Medway Bridge in the distance. The M2 motorway is alongside on the right, and is due to be widened with extra lanes during CTRL construction

Photo: QA Photos Ltd

CAPTION: Below right: In the shadow of the M2 crossing of the River Medway, piling for the foundations of the bridge carrying the high speed line is under way. The bridge will copy the road bridge profile to minimise its visual impact Photo: QA Photos Ltd

Managing a project with many masters.

The project to build the first 69 km of the long-planned Channel Tunnel Rail Link is now proceeding smoothly, with six civil engineering contracts let for work between the Tunnel and Fawkham Junction near Gravesend. Tenders for track, electrification and signalling are about to be called, but just 12 months ago the project hung in the balance. It survived thanks to the efforts of British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and a rescue package that split the job into two stages. Richard Hope explores with Ken Turnbull of Bechtel, who is Project Director of the project management consortium Rail Link Engineering, the complex client-contractor relationship that has been drawn up to get the line built

Maîtriser un projet aux intervenants multiples

Le projet de construire les premiers 69 km de la ligne nouvelle, prévue de longue date, entre le tunnel sous la Manche et Londres, avance tout doucement, avec six contrats de génie civil signés pour les travaux entre le tunnel et Fawkham Junction, près de Gravesend. Les appels d'offres pour la voie, l'électrification et la signalisation sont sur le point d'être lancés, mais voici tout juste douze mois, le projet était encore dans la balance. Il a survécut grâce aux efforts du vice-premier ministre John Prescott et à un plan de secours répartissant en deux étapes les travaux à réaliser. Avec Ken Turnbull, de Bechtel, directeur de projet pour le consortium Rail Link Engineering, Richard Hope examine les relations client-fournisseur complexes mises en ??uvre pour aboutir à la construction de la ligne

Ein Projekt mit vielen Herren

Das Projekt für die ersten 69 km des seit langem geplanten Channel Tunnel Rail Links kommt gut voran. Die Verträge für die Arbeiten zwischen dem Kanaltunnel und Fawkham Junction bei Gravesend sind mit 6 Tiefbauunternehmungen unterzeichnet worden. Die Offertverfahren für den Oberbau, die Elektrifizierung und die Sicherungsanlagen sind am Laufen. Vor 12 Monaten hing das Projekt noch stark in der Schwebe. Es überlebte dank den Bemühungen von Vize-Premierminister John Prescott und eines Rettungspaketes, welches die Aufgabe in zwei Phasen unterteilte. Richard Hope erläutert zusammen mit Ken Turnbull von Bechtel, Projektleiter beim Projekt- Management-Konsortium Rail Link Engineering, die komplexen Beziehungen zwischen Kunden und Unternehmungen, welche zu einem erfolgreichen Abwickeln des Projekts führen sollen

Gestionar un proyecto con muchos jefes

El proyecto para la construcción de los primeros 69 km del enlace entre Londres y el Túnel del Canal de la Mancha, planeado ya hace mucho tiempo, est