Interviews

01.05.15

‘We want to be involved with everything that moves using steel wheels on rail’

Source: RTM Apr/May 15

One of the world’s biggest engineering and consultancy firms, CH2M, is helping deliver Crossrail, HS2, and important projects for Network Rail and Transport for London. RTM caught up with its rail director for Europe, Sue Kershaw.

“We have civil engineers, signallers, systems people, systems integration on top of that – all the encyclopaedic knowledge you need to deliver a railway in the UK is here at CH2M.” 

Sue Kershaw was outlining to RTM the multi-disciplinary nature of the 280-strong rail team she leads at CH2M, who are capable of doing “everything” on a rail job – either at GRIP stages 1-3, or 4-8, depending on the job, she tells us. 

Her portfolio covers major projects – things on the scale of Crossrail (where CH2M is both programme partner as part of the Transcend consortium and project delivery partner with Bechtel and Systra in the central tunnel section), Crossrail 2 and HS2 – as well as framework contracts with Network Rail, and programme assurance working on franchising with the Department for Transport (DfT). 

Her European role also covers a rail presence in Poland, a potential expansion into Scandinavia and work on rapid transit in Dublin, Kershaw told us. 

Building capability 

In the UK, the team’s work with Network Rail includes complex digital projects like Engineering Data Management (EDM) on the Western & Wales route. 

“We want to build competency and capability across both those frameworks with Network Rail and with TfL, looking at the Future Stations programme, for example.But on top of that, we’re working with the DfT on franchising and ensuring that’s heading in a direction the department wants to go – and that, as the power in the DfT devolves, for example with Rail North, we’re part of that as well. 

“We want to be involved with everything that moves, across the UK and Europe, using steel wheels on rail.” 

Kershaw knows a lot about big clients, having been one herself. She was a senior figure at the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), first as head of programme management and then deputy director of transport, following previous roles working on infrastructure projects including the East London Line, the development of the ExCeL exhibition centre, and the Docklands Light Railway extension to City Airport in 2005. She has also worked on big projects abroad, such as Bangkok Mass Transit System (the Skytrain). 

She is a fellow and honorary fellow at the Association for Project Management, where she also now sits on the board. 

Asked for her take on client-contractor relationships on big infrastructure projects, she told us: “It’s fascinating, actually. When I was deputy director of transport for the ODA, our delivery partners were all existing transport operators, UK-wide. CLM [a consortium including CH2M Hill, as it was then known] was the delivery partner for the main buildings in the Olympic Park and all the operations and facilities management. We had a totally integrated approach: CLM sat on our executive board, which I had never come across before – that degree of total openness and frankness. 

“When things were bad, everyone worked together to make sure there was a solution, and we had the same on the transport operators side as well. That was helped by having a fixed deadline, if I’m honest, and a project of national importance. 

“From my personal perspective, coming into an organisation like CH2M, I have the ability to put my client ‘head’ on and off – so when we’re doing bids, I put it on, and when I’m out there talking to clients, I can empathise with them, and also offer up what we’re doing in a slightly different way, which is quite useful.” 

Picking up the phone 

The company certainly has a lot of knowledge to draw on. At a global level, it worked with 5,000 clients in 50 countries last year alone, taking USD$5.5bn in revenue. It works on all kinds of contract – design, consulting, project management, programme management, design and build, operations management, construction management – across a wide range of sectors, including utilities, nuclear, military facilities, industrial contracts, construction and environmental services. 

Kershaw said: “I’m a great believer in never thinking you know it all! And we don’t, even though we are leading edge on some things in the UK. But having the reach back to [corporate HQ in] Denver and all the various parts of the organisation – it’s part of our culture here at CH2M. It’s really strongly encouraged, across disciplines but also in a non-hierarchical sense. So people feel quite at ease ringing up our chief executive and giving a suggestion or idea or congratulating her on something, or asking advice. It’s completely open. I’ve never worked anywhere where it’s so genuinely collaborative.” 

The company is employee-owned, which Kershaw said makes people reflect more on big decisions – especially financial ones – before taking them.

c. Crossrail 

BIM 

RTM has had a big focus on BIM in recent editions, including our interviews with HS2 BIM director Jon Kerbey, his opposite number at Crossrail, Ross Dentten, and the asset information team at Network Rail. 

BIM, which officially stands for ‘building information modelling’ – but which some evangelists say really means ‘better information management’ – is “really embraced” at CH2M, Kershaw told us.

The EDM work on Western & Wales uses solid BIM principles, for example. “But we’ve also got learning to do, not just from our BIM people but from clients like David Waboso on London Underground [Waboso writes for RTM on page 176]. They are 10 or 15 years ahead of national rail, because they had to be. 

“This is really crucial: BIM is not about systems or processes, it’s the mindset you have to have. It’s about transforming your railway from, in London Underground’s case, a Victorian railway to one for the 2050s and beyond. It’s the ability to map that transformation and see the end goal, so you make sure you get there and don’t get overwhelmed with the ‘newness’ of it.” 

Skills and diversity 

CH2M is also part of the industry-wide push for a step-change in training, recruitment and apprenticeships to tackle the coming skills gap in rail – something acknowledged by RTM with our founding of the UK Rail Industry Training Trust and series of Gen Y Rail events. 

Kershaw said: “We see resources as our number one risk. I think that’s common to everyone in the industry. We’re looking at different initiatives whereby we can make a real change, rather than just recruiting more [people], or poaching more from other places. So, we’re a founding member of TAC, the Technician Apprenticeships Consortium, and we’ve also developed our Rail Engineering Design Technician Apprenticeship. This year, we’re aiming for about 130 apprentices and grads and interns, plus about 30 or so summer [placements] for people to get a taste for it. 

“The biggest issue is the need for an understanding of our industry by teachers and parents. We need to work really hard to get into schools.” 

Kershaw was full of praise for the work of STEMNET chief executive Kirsten Bodley – “she’s a fantastic force and we’re right behind her” – and others helping attract bright new talent into the industry. 

She noted the need to get more women and girls into the rail sector, and suggested that project management roles could be one way to do it, rather than just traditional engineering. “[Speaking] as both a civil engineer and a project manager, we can probably sell project management better than engineering,” she said, “for girls in particular. 

“Once they are in the industry and see the huge breadth of opportunities there are, everything from sustainability through to being a designer and back again, I think that would be a way to crack the nut.”

She added: “We are taking diversity very seriously – we want to tap into that 50% of the gene pool. We have a revivified women’s network, we’re heading towards a diversity network, and we’re really trying to do our bit and make sure that we don’t just attract women and young girls but also have a better and more rounded workforce.” 

The company has staff all over the UK – Glasgow, Birmingham, Swindon, Derby, York, Exeter, Bristol, Cardiff and Warrington, among other places – with a mixture of capabilities at each site. “We’re a very dynamic organisation: people move around and share information. My design team up in Glasgow are doing some work for Southern, for example – it’s healthy that they’re not compartmentalised or siloed in any way. Signalling is huge in York, as is track and all of the rail systems side, which we can use across the country but also for work in Poland. And then we have very good engineers in Poland, coming over now. It’s very healthy and diverse.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

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