A higher standard

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Oct/Nov 2013

Bill Grose, a chartered civil engineer and director of Arup, currently working with HS2 Ltd in their Efficiency Challenge Team, outlines a new effort to improve the way design codes and standards for major infrastructure projects are handled through a new BSI project. 


British Standards, defining the required quality for goods and services, have existed in the UK for many years now. Started over 100 years ago, British Standards were produced in order to make British manufacturers more efficient and competitive. There are now over 27,000 British Standards and they have set the benchmark for quality in many countries across the world.

They have been translated into other languages and have formed the basis of national standards in many other countries.

Infrastructure designers need to comply not only with British Standards but also with other codes and standards. They also need to navigate through, for example, Eurocodes, which are gradually superceding or replacing British standards, as well as design guides from organisations such as the Construction Industry Research & Information Association (CIRIA) and the Building Research Establishment (BRE).

Designers will also be aware of learned papers and technical publications that contain design advice and empirical methods that best practice dictate that they follow.

The construction industry, including clients, designers and contractors, has recognised for some time that the number, complexity and ambiguity of codes and standards are increasingly leading to inefficiencies in both the design process and the product. It is also appreciated that design codes and standards are, even when first published, to some extent out of date due to the time taken in their preparation and approval. New materials and methods are being developed all the time, and the risk is that codes do not keep up.


In 2010 Infrastructure UK, a department of HM Treasury, carried out an investigation into the costs of constructing economic infrastructure in the UK compared with other western European countries. They found a number of reasons why costs were higher in the UK than elsewhere and made recommendations for bringing that cost down. One of those recommendations was to look at the way that design codes and standards were written and applied.

A spin-off from the IUK cost review was the formation of an Industry Standards Group. In July 2012 this group produced a report entitled ‘Specifying Successful Standards’, looking at how efficiencies and competitiveness can be brought back into the UK infrastructure design codes and standards. They found that much of the inefficiency was not caused by the codes, standards and specifications themselves, but how these were interpreted by different clients and designers. A simplification process has since been adopted by several large infrastructure clients, including Network Rail and London Underground.

Within the rail sector the question of “performance-based versus prescriptive” standards is often raised, with the clear view that too many prescriptive standards are inhibiting designers’ opportunity to innovate and be cost-effective.

High Speed Two

High Speed Two, the proposed new north-south railway linking the UK’s major cities, has taken on the recommendations proposed by IUK in the cost review, and has taken the novel approach of forming an Efficiency Challenge Programme. This programme, implemented by a small non-executive team within the Commercial Directorate, is tasked to reduce the capital costs of High Speed Two by bringing efficiency measures into the planning, design and construction processes. One of the 19 initiatives is to manage and improve infrastructure design codes and standards to bring about efficient design and construction and save costs.


HS2 have appointed the British Standards Institution, BSI, to carry out this work. Initial research has been divided into three sub-areas: civil engineering, buildings, and railway systems. Industry experts have been involved, including designers, contractors and organisations such as the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the Royal Institute of British Architects, and the Rail Industry Association amongst others.

The BSI work has two aims: firstly to identify and remedy any codes which are considered to be obsolete, duplications, or in some way inefficient. The second aim is for BSI to produce a publicly available specification (PAS) to help guide designers efficiently through the plethora of design codes, standards and methods currently available to them.

So far the initiative has been met with enthusiasm from industry. Designers see the potential benefits of this work – simplifying the design process, leaving designers to spend more time on designing rather than demonstrating compliance. And contractors see the benefits, in simplifying construction, standardising details for improved production, and avoiding unnecessarily complex construction details.

BSI work phases

BSI’s work will be in three phases – the first phase to establish the expert teams and prioritise the areas where effort is required, the second phase sets out in detail the codes and standards that will be cited in the PAS, together with any significant gaps that need to be addressed. The third and last phase is to produce the PAS, build consensus and publish.

Closing remarks

Ultimately, we would like to remove the catch-all clause in design contracts that says ‘Designers shall comply with all relevant codes and standards’, and say something more helpful. In the extreme this clause simply encourages unnecessary risk-aversion as design houses try to set out all the relevant codes and how they demonstrate compliance.

Designers then spend too long demonstrating compliance and not long enough actually designing.

How this finally gets dealt with on HS2 is not yet decided, but we are determined to improve the design process, and the product, by simplifying the approach to design codes and standards.

About the author

Bill Grose is a chartered civil engineer, currently working with High Speed Two Ltd in their Efficiency Challenge Team. He has been a director of Arup since 1992, working across their infrastructure group in London. He started his career in geotechnical engineering before moving into tunnelling, founding and then building Arup’s tunnelling business and capability. In 2005 he became Project Director of all Arup’s work on the infrastructure of London’s Olympic Park, running a team of over 400 staff in more than 50 disciplines and professions. He then spent 18 months working with HMTreasury’s Infrastructure UK group researching and writing the IUK Cost Review, and is now seconded to HS2.

Among other interests, Grose is a Member of Council at the Institution of Civil Engineers, and a member of their Executive Board. He was chairman of the British Tunnelling Society in 2006-2008, and has authored a number of publications on tunnelling and risk management. Grose is also an experienced expert witness, and is known internationally for the forensic investigation of major tunnel collapses.

BSI’s role in the project

A BSI spokesman said: “BSI and HS2 Ltd are working together to ensure infrastructure design standards and codes deliver the best solutions efficiently. This first of its kind consultation project is part of HS2’s Efficiency Challenge Programme and aims to manage and improve infrastructure design codes and standards to improve efficiency and save costs.

“The plethora of current design codes and standards means that numerous duplications and overlaps, sometimes with conflicting requirements, make the design process unnecessarily complex. As a result this often leads to different interpretations by different designers complicating the compliance and construction processes. This project will identify the best way in which current design standards and codes can be harmonized and define what specific additional guidance is necessary to help deliver the design and construction of HS2 more efficiently.

“As part of phase one of this three-part process, BSI will be carrying out a series of industry workshops. Experts from the civil engineering, building and power and systems industries will come together to find a solution to the challenges faced by big spend infrastructure projects. The resulting updating of standards and development of project-specific guidance documents will clarify the standards to use and how to apply them.

“The aim is to make the application of design standards more efficient and also to encourage innovation. When the initial bid documents clearly show the standards and specifications that are necessary at the outset, it will help to reduce over-design and re-design (and associated overspends) and timeline slippages.

“These factors are of major interest to large scale projects such as HS2 which rely heavily upon strong communication and clarity from the outset.

“Their success is also dependent on learning from past projects where over-specification and a tendency to apply unnecessary standards have resulted in higher costs. These experiences will help to shape the development of a new guidance document and the publicly available specification (PAS) that will be produced later.”

Scott Steedman, director of standards at BSI, added: “We see a major opportunity for a new guidance document setting out how existing design standards for construction should be used by experienced engineers on HS2 in a consistent manner to achieve efficient, cost-effective solutions.”

(Image: copyright HS2)

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