Lessons from Hong Kong

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Feb/March 2013

Jeremy Long is Europe CEO for MTR, which co-owns the London Overground concession operated for TfL. He was formerly the managing director of FirstGroup Rail Division and founder and chief executive of GB Railways Group plc. Here, he discusses project management lessons from Hong Kong for the UK network.

The publication of Network Rail’s Strategic Business plan earlier this year has allowed the industry to see the sheer scope of the plans for rail in CP5. Many of the upcoming projects, such as the overhaul of Thameslink, the Northern Hub and the electrifi cation of the Midland Main Line, are either additions to, or will directly affect, existing lines. The Thameslink train operator will need to run a commuter rail service while Network Rail carries out a major track and station upgrade programme, during which London Bridge will be completely remodelled, and Farringdon station will need to adapt to being a major Crossrail interchange when the service opens in 2018/9. Good project management will be vital.

MTR is facing similar challenges in Hong Kong, where there are five major rail projects currently in progress, all due for completion within the next eight years. Like in the UK, four of these will interface directly with live stations and track. Overseen by MTR, which runs the Hong Kong metro as well as a growing number of railway operations around the world, these projects are together worth over £13bn and will create 15 new stations and 34 miles (56km) of new track.

Managing five projects at once has its challenges – including coordinating resourcing, responses to technical challenges and budgeting and programming. Throughout, MTR needs to ensure that a holistic view is taken to management, and that resolving individual issues doesn’t interfere with overall efforts to complete the fi ve projects on time and to budget.

Each project also holds its own challenges, especially the ambitious and complex HK$66.9bn (£5bn) high speed line, a 26km wholly underground link between Kowloon and the border with mainland China. The capability of the local construction industry to build the huge 15-track 430,000 square meters underground Kowloon terminus site, which accounts for 40% of the project, is one such challenge. There were concerns that a single contractor would not have the resource needed undertake the work. MTR’s solution was to split the ground engineering work into four packages to avoid placing too much risk into the hands of one contractor.

But dividing up the work into four contracts has meant that good project management from the MTR team has become even more vital.

Meanwhile, building the South Island Line, which will be the first metro line connecting north and south Hong Kong Island, has also presented MTR with challenges. Similar to the work carried out to expand London’s Tottenham Court Road Underground station to accommodate Crossrail, work is made tricky by the site’s location, the 40m depth of the excavation and the fact that blasting works will be carried out close to operational railway tunnels.

MTR, recognising the high risk and amount of method related work in the project, is addressing this problem by using a target cost contract rather than tying the contractor down to a fi xed price. This allows the contractor to place more emphasis on risk mitigation and value engineering, as their costs are being paid.

The West Island Line upgrade (a £1.3bn tunnelled extension to the existing Island Line on Hong Kong Island), comparable to the proposed Northern Line extension to Battersea and Nine Elms, presents a challenge to MTR due to the need to tightly schedule deliveries to allow current Island Line passenger services to run as normal. To help meet such challenges, the team delivering the enhancements has weekly meetings with the operations team and agrees joint solutions. By creating a genuine dialogue between them and having a one-team approach to the project, MTR avoids many of the operations versus infrastructure dilemmas which have all too frequently caused delays and cost-overruns to projects in the UK.

MTR whole-heartedly agrees with McNulty’s diagnosis that this partnership working can be delivered in the UK, and in fact we have already demonstrated this here.

We drafted in senior engineers during the fi nal stages of TFL’s East London Line upgrade project, to help optimise the line before it was handed over to our London Overground joint venture, which holds the concession for the line.

London Overground also recently worked collaboratively with TfL and Network Rail to bring into service the Clapham Junction to Surrey Quays extension to the Overground network on-time and on-budget, completing the orbital railway around the capital. We’ve achieved all this whilst driving up performance and passenger satisfaction to record highs.

Our expertise doesn’t just involve expanding existing lines, however. Late last year MTR, and Hangzhou Metro Group with whom it operates in a joint venture, opened the fi rst metro line in the Chinese city of Hangzhou – which is 48 kilometres in length and includes 31 stations.

This followed the opening in 2009 of Line 4 of the Beijing Subway, a high intensity, high quality system which carries one million passengers a day and runs at 99% punctuality, built and run by a joint partnership including MTR.

In London, the successful Crossrail franchisee will also need to work with Crossrail, Network Rail and TfL to oversee the fi nal stages of the commissioning of an entirely new railway, with 42 kilometres of new tunnels and nine new stations.

Based on our experience we know delivering this ambitious project, and others upcoming in the UK, on time and on budget is achievable with good project management, stakeholder relations and a partnership approach.

Jeremy Long is CEO of European Business for MTR Corporation – the Hong Kong headquartered international railway and property company. In recent years, MTR has expanded internationally, with operations in Europe, mainland China and Australia. In Europe, MTR are co-owners of the London Overground concession operated for TfL, and are the operator of the Stockholm Metro System in Sweden.

Long was formerly managing director of FirstGroup Rail Division, and was founder and chief executive of GB Railways Group plc.

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at [email protected]


David Sproule   22/03/2013 at 14:03

We have been working with MTR in Hong Kong for the last 15 years, they are a fine example (if at times demanding) of a great rail operator. I'm sure Mr Long will bring MTR's commitment and work ethic to ensure success in London and we trust our work with TfL will not go unnoticed either. All our dealings with MTR suggest we have nothing but great times ahead.

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