A triumph of effective collaboration

Major construction and redevelopment projects become known for their value, innovation and end benefits. Big numbers and improvements for passengers make the headlines. But none of that would happen without the large number of people involved working together in the most effective way possible. Good collaboration is not just something that’s ‘nice to have’ - it’s an essential part of working on the railway’s infrastructure.

Effective collaboration with Network Rail in particular is paramount, especially on big upgrades where the railway must continue to run during the work programme. This kind of collaborative working has been demonstrated at an award-winning level in the Home Counties recently. The Reading area redevelopment won Project of the Year at RAIL’s National Rail Awards last month, and Carillion won Best Collaboration at the Network Rail Partnership Awards in June for its part in the project (see panel). Neither of these things would have happened without the exceptional teamwork of its contractors.

“It was always the intention of the Network Rail Project Team to ensure that the Reading programme was delivered collaboratively with our suppliers.” said NR project manager, Rob Mashford. “The Reading Track team has ensured that this has always been at the forefront of the way we work as ‘one team’. The team has always included the whole supply chain and ensured that a formal change control process is in place which significantly aids this collaboration.”

Reading is a critical transport hub, linking key destinations such as London, Southampton, Wales, the South West, Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh. Redeveloping the area was a complex £969 million project and it will benefit thousands of customers, both passengers and freight users, over the coming years.

The final two stages of the project (Key Outputs 3 and 4) were delivered in December 2014 (see panel). This part of the project provided an increase of four trains per hour, additional freight capacity and a 100% station capacity increase (Reading now handles 528 trains per day). But many indirect benefits have also been realised - strengthened supplier relationships, fast-track delivery experience and skills development that will benefit future projects.

Deadlines are a challenge on any project, but the teams working on Reading were challenged to deliver Key Outputs 3 and 4 a year ahead of the programme schedule to realise the benefits earlier. Those involved recognised that this would only be possible by embracing a ‘one team’ attitude for the duration of the programme. Early and continuous face-to-face discussions between everyone involved was key to planning, integrating and preparing the aspects each contractor would control.

Conflicts were quickly and professionally resolved this way to make sure that a safe approach was maintained and the impact
on passengers remained at the heart of
every decision.

With several contractors working on the project, the performance of each would affect the others. The Balfour Beatty works had to meet seven sectional milestones before the structure could be handed over to Carillion, Siemens and Lundy to allow railway asset installation. Between June and Christmas 2014, Carillion completed the plain line and switches and crossings on the structure and its environs, while Siemens and Lundy installed signalling and overhead line structures. The work culminated in a ten-day blockade over Christmas, which meant the first passenger train could pass over the new elevated section on January 4, as timetabled.

The contractors weren’t contractually required to collaborate in this manner. Key Outputs 3 and 4 were set up using a ‘hub and spoke’ approach (meaning that while each contractor operated individually, they were contributing to a single goal). They recognised that working together and ensuring each other’s success was the best way to achieve that common goal.

This meant open discussion of problems to agree joint resolutions where the most appropriate party took the lead. That type of honest communication was vital, and underpinned the success of the whole project.

But what did this open and honest collaboration look like in practice?

Weekly construction co-ordination meetings - with so many individually contracted works happening in a short timescale and in a logistically constrained site, this kept communication between parties open and frequent. Representatives from each contractor and each Network Rail discipline attended the meetings to resolve issue such as access orders, storage space and even parking arrangements.

Weekly steering group - at contractor and project director level, these meetings focused on developing strategies for the delivery of each key commissioning stage. Issues such as possession access, earned value and key programme conflicts could be discussed and resolved quickly before they became unmanageable.

Quarterly supplier and safety forums - with several Tier 1 suppliers contracted on the overall project and split by discipline, it would have been counter-productive to ask a single organisation to be the principle contractor. The agreed approach was that, as the discipline focus of the project changed, so the principle contractor would change accordingly. This allowed the contractor best-placed to understand and control the key risks to take the lead at the appropriate time. Working in this way meant that there were no lost time injuries (LTIs) associated with works within another principle contractor’s area. But this was only successful because the suppliers were able to trust one another to act in the best interests of the programme, rather than promoting their own individual interests.

One of the ideas generated by these forums was an idea to eliminate works risks in the run-up to the Christmas 2014 blockade. Balfour Beatty and Carillion supplied lifting services to Lundy to enable their overhead line structures to be lifted into position in between planned civils heavy lifts. By utilising the existing cranes on-site, there was no need to bring in duplicate lifting equipment.

Likewise, it was decided that track and signalling teams would work concurrently within worksites to ensure smooth commissioning. Siemens’ signalling team equipped the new track with axle counters, while Carillion carried out track welding and stressing work. These would normally be carried out independently but could be done more efficiently by working together.

Individually, these ideas seem simple, but added together across an entire project they made a significant difference to the successful delivery of the end result. Collaboration between contractors is essential, but Reading is an example of a project that has benefited from contractors really working as ‘one team’ for the good of the customer and the overall betterment of the railway.

“Great Collaboration is seamless,” said John Fitzpatrick, senior project manager for Carillion “You do not have to work hard to achieve collaboration but it can define success or failure. Without the desire of all working together to achieve as one, we would probably not have been so successful. This is the best ‘one team’ approach I have seen in many years in the rail industry”

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