‘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 


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


There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment



rail technology magazine tv

more videos >

latest rail news

Dawlish railway may be ‘moved out to sea’ to protect it from storms under new proposals

13/06/2019Dawlish railway may be ‘moved out to sea’ to protect it from storms under new proposals

The storm-battered Dawlish rail line could be “moved out to sea” and away from the “hazard” of the cliffs under new plans... more >
TfL awards contract for new DLR fleet to replace 30-year-old trains

12/06/2019TfL awards contract for new DLR fleet to replace 30-year-old trains

TfL has awarded a contract for 43 new trains to replace the oldest rolling stock on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), with the first scheduled t... more >
Hitachi trains for Happy trains

10/06/2019Hitachi trains for Happy trains

ScotRail project manager Kirsty Devlin discusses the withdrawal of Class 365s, to be replaced with the brand-new Class 385 fleet. While Scot... more >

editor's comment

23/01/2018Out with the old...

Despite a few disappointing policy announcements, especially for the electrification aficionados amongst us, 2017 was, like Darren Caplan writes on page 20, a year generally marked by positive news for the rail industry. We polished off the iconic Ordsall Chord (p32), hit some solid milestones on Thameslink (p40), progressed on ambitious rolling stock orders (p16), and finally started moving forward on HS2 (p14) ‒ paving the way for a New Ye... read more >

last word

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

This summer, Arriva Group's CrossCountry and the Scout Association joined to launch a new partnership to promote rail safety among young people. Chris Leech MBE, business community manager at the... more > more last word articles >

'the sleepers' daily blog

Apprentice to Co-leading the Rail Sector Deal

05/06/2019Apprentice to Co-leading the Rail Sector Deal

In a series of Q&A’s with key speakers on the run up to TransCityRail Midlands, we caught up with TransCityRail panellist and Amey’s commercial account director, Anna Delvecchio, for her insight into what the Rail Sector Deal means for the rail industry and its supply chain. Anna started her career as an apprentice at the age o... more >
read more blog posts from 'the sleeper' >


Hitachi trains for Happy trains

10/06/2019Hitachi trains for Happy trains

ScotRail project manager Kirsty Devlin discusses the withdrawal of Class 365s, to be replaced with the brand-new Class 385 fleet. While Scot... more >
Malcolm Holmes on new stations for the Black Country

10/06/2019Malcolm Holmes on new stations for the Black Country

Malcolm Holmes, executive director of the West Midlands Rail Executive, described the new stations set to be built for the Black Country region o... more >
The skills bottleneck: Dealing with growing apprenticeship demand

10/06/2019The skills bottleneck: Dealing with growing apprenticeship demand

Richard Turner, head of apprenticeships at Network Rail, details the reasons for growing apprenticeship demand in the rail sector over the coming... more >
A train journey on the Midland Main Line 15 years from now…

10/06/2019A train journey on the Midland Main Line 15 years from now…

Chris Hobson, director of policy and external affairs at the East Midlands Chamber, talks in detail about what travelling through the region will... more >

rail industry focus

View all News


Advancing the rail industry with management degree apprenticeships

08/05/2019Advancing the rail industry with management degree apprenticeships

In answering the pressing questions of how current and future generations of managers can provide solutions to high-profile infrastructure projec... more >