A benchmark year for HS2

Source: RTM Feb/Mar 18

Jim Crawford, managing director of Phase 1 at HS2 Ltd, discusses the many critical activities set to take place this year as the mammoth high-speed rail project moves from preparation to construction.

We’re 12 months on from being granted the powers to build the first new railway north of London in more than 120 years, and it’s been a busy year. We’ve achieved a great deal and the pace will only increase in 2018, which is set to be another significant year. 

The work to deliver Phase 1 of the HS2 route from the West Midlands to London is more than just a multifaceted construction programme; it will be the largest infrastructure programme in Europe, and increase commercial and consumer connectivity across the UK like never before. 

The impact HS2 will have on the country will be significant, as it boosts the UK’s economy through the creation of thousands of jobs and apprenticeships, increases capacity on our existing rail network, links the West Midlands to London and better connects cities and communities, and paves the way for Phase 2a and 2b.

If the last 12 months have been focused on starting our preparatory works and the procurement of our main works contractors, then the next 12 months will see this preparation work manifest into a far more extensive programme with increased visibility and physical presence on the ground. This is particularly pertinent when considering the scale of the combined workforce, their geographical spread, specialisms, and task list. 2018 is a critical year. We have appointed hugely experienced contractors who bring with them extensive expertise and, just as importantly, a common goal and shared commitment to deliver the project and respect our local communities.

On solid ground

This year will see us close out our Ground Investigations (GI) programme. This hugely important programme is the largest, most detailed one of its kind, and the largest ever undertaken in the UK. To give you a sense of scale, it has spanned around 7,600 fieldwork locations stretching along the entire 140 miles of the Phase 1 route.

Around one million laboratory tests have been carried out on the ground samples taken, and this collective tranche of data is being shared with our Main Works Civils contractors to enable them to deliver their works programme as efficiently, cost-effectively, and with as much shared intelligence possible.

This geotechnical data shows the underground conditions and will inform the upcoming detailed design and construction phases – it is vital to inform the work around tunnelling, bridges and viaducts, cuttings, embankments, and stations. In short, this thorough programme is one of the ways in which we de-risk the overall programme.

We’ve championed a number of new technologies and ways of working at each stage of our investigations, including the use of leading-edge investigation techniques such as sonic drilling. We have also insisted on the provision of the eventual geotechnical data to be presented in a best-practice digital format (known as AGS4). Receiving data in this format from the onset has made it much quicker and far more efficient to share and check geotechnical information. All of this data will be shared with the British Geological Survey and it will increase the amount of AGS4 data held in their archives by 300%.

This is a great example of our commitment to innovation and raising standards, helping to accelerate the development of the UK GI industry as a whole and creating a positive and long-lasting legacy behind us. 

Main works readiness

The July 2017 award of our Main Works Civils contracts, worth £6.6bn, was a huge landmark for us and marked the start of the scheme design stage of the programme ahead of major construction. Having mobilised their teams, the four successful joint ventures are now working together with us to optimise the scheme designs within the parameters set by the Phase 1 Act and supporting undertakings and assurances. This design stage allows HS2 to benefit from the international high-speed rail experience our contractors bring, while enabling them to hit the ground running once major construction begins next year.

Key to this is the development of a cohesive and collaborative relationship – after all, we will be working together for the next 10 years – and we’ve taken time from the start to develop shared goals and a collective approach to the way we work. In practice many of our teams are co-located with our contractors, enabling better knowledge-sharing, innovation, faster decision-making – in short, effective teamwork. The lessons learned from mobilising our main works contractors are now being taken forward with other contracts as they come on board.

Being a good neighbour

HS2 will bring real and tangible benefits for many, whether that’s jobs and skills, the regeneration of local communities and economies, or better connecting eight out of 10 of the UK’s largest cities. For others, construction will, in the short term, impact their personal lives and, in the longer term, change the environment in which they live.

Consequently, we have to take account of all these elements and deliver a high-speed railway that achieves our core purpose whilst being sensitive to local communities and their environments.

Our Community Commitments set out the standards that HS2 and our entire supply chain will adhere to, and these shape the way we will work with, and alongside, local residents and businesses. This has never been more important, and 2018 will be a benchmark year as we accelerate delivery of our preparatory works along the Phase 1 route and start to share scheme designs – like with the Colne Valley viaduct (pictured), which we published earlier this year. To help inform local communities about the works being undertaken and building on the success of ‘HS2inEuston,’ we’re expanding the number of community information sites to 10, four of which are now live.

We expect everyone delivering HS2 to do so in a way that demonstrates good neighbourly behaviour – this means showing respect and acting with integrity in all we do as we build the railway.

Legacy structures

2018 will be a year where we continue to realise the visual look and feel of our structures and key design elements. We have recently revealed the world-leading architects, designers and engineers that will help transform London Euston and deliver brand-new landmark stations in Birmingham Curzon Street, Solihull, and London’s Old Oak Common – the largest new station building programme in the UK since the Victorian age.

These stations will be a legacy for their areas, and we’ve procured some of the leading figures from across the industry, ensuring that their combined expertise can be drawn on to deliver HS2 in the most dynamic, progressive and cost-effective way to create a railway that we can all be proud of.

Our green vision

This year will see a step change in the amount of work taking place to create a ‘green corridor’ of connected wildlife habitats alongside the railway. This includes over nine square kilometres of new woodlands on Phase 1, which will help to integrate the railway into the landscape and support wildlife.

As part of this work, we have started planting the first of seven million new trees and shrubs. We’ve also already begun creating new habitats that are tailor-made for local species that may be affected by our future construction work, ranging from bats to great crested newts.

2018 is the year when this work begins to accelerate, and we will see this network of wildlife habitats – ranging from woodlands and meadows to wetlands and ponds – stretch alongside much of the track. On Phase 1, these habitats will cover 33 square kilometres – and work will continue throughout the year across the three delivery areas to develop these green spaces. 

The next generation

When the National College for High Speed Rail opened its doors to the first intake of students in September 2017, it demonstrated the role that high-speed rail will play for the development of future skills in the UK. Independent from HS2, and funded separately, the first tranche of apprentices provides tangible proof of the positive impact HS2 will have in changing the face of Britain.

2018 will mark the end of the first full academic year for these apprentices and see the college welcome another new intake, growing its numbers. This is not just an HS2 commitment, but one supported by our Tier 1 contractors, all of which have a number of apprentices at the college. These young learners are the future of our industry and will play a vital part in the UK’s future economic growth. As many as 2,000 apprenticeship opportunities will be created because of HS2, and there will be around 25,000 people employed during construction.

These ripples will be felt way beyond this year: they will make a genuine impact on the lives of those who are learning as part of HS2, working in our supply chain, or who will benefit from the creation of new jobs and opportunities that the project brings.

Looking ahead

We often only reflect to ensure that we are on track, but we’ve made time to learn from each experience and share best practice to inform and benefit future works. Looking ahead, we’ve a lot to do, but I believe we have the right people, aligned behind a single common purpose, and the passion to build a railway that will change Britain for the better for generations to come.

HS2 is more than a railway – it is a catalyst for growth, and provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to deliver economic benefits across Britain and leave a legacy of positive change.

Top image: HayesDavidson KnightArchitects




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