Rail Industry Focus


All together now

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Aug/Sept 2012

The Hitchin Flyover project, which recently passed a major milestone when a 30-tonne bridge span was lifted into place in just 90 minutes, is being managed by an innovative alliance of Network Rail and Hochtief. RTM heard more from Network Rail’s alliance manager for the project, Nick Hilton, and his counterpart from Hochtief, Julian Spiller.

It has taken years – decades in fact – but work is now steaming ahead on the Hitchin Flyover project, designed to allow more and faster services on the line between London, Cambridge and King’s Lynn.

Currently trains from King’s Cross towards Cambridge have to cross three other lines on the ECML, including the two fast lines, over a flat junction to get to the Cambridge line – but the new fly-over will cut out this problem completely. This should have the further knock-on effect of improving reliability.

A project of this type – though a flyunder, not a flyover – was first conceived over 20 years ago, and it has been hanging around in its current incarnation for around 10 years, before finally getting the go-ahead from the transport secretary in March 2011. Services will start using the new stretch of line by early 2014.

The flyover involves 2.25km of new railway, including 1.25km of viaduct and 1km of embankment.


Network Rail’s senior project manager, who heads the alliance with Hochtief that is delivering the Hitchin Flyover scheme, Nick Hilton, told RTM that the cost-benefit ratio for the scheme has got better and better over recent years, as traffic and forecast traffic on the ECML has increased.

He added: “One of the key drivers, as part of the whole package of ECML improvements that have come through the CP4 HLOS, was to create additional paths on the ECML, for long-distance services between London, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh. This scheme removes a number of minutes from the timetable, which alongside the other improvements we’re carrying out, provides for an additional hourly path through to King’s Cross.”

He noted that the Hitchin project, which will cost around £47m all told, has required fulltime work for nearly six years, including design and development, the Transport & Works Act (TWA) process, consultation and negotiation.

But it was only at a relatively late stage that Network Rail decided to run the entire project in a new and innovative way, with a full-blown alliance with the lead contractor.

Hilton said: “As we got towards the end of GRIP 4 and towards the procurement of the scheme and construction, the appetite for alliancing and collaborative working inside Network Rail increased.

“Consequently, the plans were changed, pretty much during the tender process as alliancing became more palatable as a delivery mechanism in the new climate.”

He noted that Network Rail, now that it is a more mature organisation, has been able to move away from the centralised commandand- control culture in place during Iain Coucher’s tenure, when it was trying to rectify a legacy of under-investment and mistakes made by Railtrack. “As we moved into the collaborative world of David Higgins, I think the ground changed. Opportunities arose to work more collaboratively, to deliver the benefits that come with removing contractual boundaries,” he said. RTM investigates this idea more fully on page 22.

Julian Spiller, project manager for Hochtief within the Alliance, gave his insight into the contractual shift that led to its creation, instead of a traditional client-customer, master-slave relationship.

He said: “We were asked some post-tender questions, which were based on our views of alliancing and collaborative working.

“Those were then followed up with a number of workshops in York, with two prospective tender teams, us and Network Rail, and our competitor and Network Rail, along with an observation team from a consultancy who judged people’s performance in that situation, and our willingness to work through common problems.”

Single spine of leadership

‘Alliance’ is not just fancy PR spin to dress up the same kind of collaboration with lead contractors that has been going on for years.

Hilton said: “In this organisation, we have a single spine of leadership from top to bottom. We don’t have two teams who would traditionally ‘square off’ against each other, in a traditional contract. Everyone here has a specific role and a specific responsibility, and interacts with the other team members in that mode. Everybody has a job to do and everybody does it.

“We all sit side by side and there is no duplication or man-marking across the two organisations.”

Spiller added: “The idea is that it goes beyond collaboration, which would still imply there are two teams. This is, in effect, one team. That’s a step forward from what people have been used to.”

Hitchin became the guinea pig for the alliance model, which is now being rolled out more widely, with a similar path being taken on the north Doncaster chord grade separation project.

Hilton said: “Within Network Rail, we have an ‘alliance academy’ that’s been set up to transfer experience from one project to another, and we’ve been quite key in developing experience for that. It’s a model and a mode that’s going to be coming more to the forefront over the next year or so.”


Both sides agree that formalising the alliance even earlier would have helped. Spiller explained: “With hindsight, we all recognise that GRIP 4 would have been the best stage to start the alliance.

“Whilst we’ve not been able to deliver everything in terms of performance that we could have done had we been involved earlier, we’ve certainly helped Network Rail as a client organisation move from the traditional contract to making an alliance work. We’ve been the guinea pig project.”

Hilton said in the future, alliances will come in at the back end of GRIP 3 or start of GRIP 4. “One of the things we always struggle with in developing schemes is contractor knowledge. By getting contractor’s ideas on constructability issues built in up-front, obviously that’s going to bring huge programming and commercial benefits.”

Overnight lift

The key milestone for the project has been passed – the 30-tonne main span of the flyover was lifted into place in just 90 minutes over the weekend at the beginning of July.

It was fabricated off-site, by Mabey Bridge in south Wales. Taling about the main span, Spiller explained: “That particular set of beams, was brought in in shorter single lengths and then spliced to create longer single beams, and then finally braced into a pair. There was then some on-site build prior to the lift.”

Possession windows have been relatively short, generally six or seven-hour hours over Saturday nights and Sunday mornings.

Hilton said: “We’ve been incredibly conservative, generally, with our possession access – which has caused us problems,” he admitted. “As with any scheme, there’s a tradeoff between access and efficiency, and we have to remember on the railway that we have a railway to run, and customers have services they want to operate.”

Spiller said: “The methodology and design for this project has been fairly straightforward; the challenge has been integrating it with the railway, carrying out critical works in short overnight possessions or in planned access.”

Weather or not…

The first pile went into the ground in late March, and when RTM talked to Hilton and Spiller in late July, they had progressed about 60% of the substructure, with three spans of the superstructure over the ECML in place: one over the railway and one either end. The next phase of beam erection began at the beginning of August.

Earthworks at the Cambridge line end have also recently started – “just as the weather turned from bad to horrendous”.

“It’s not been the best of time to start placing chalk fill in the embankment!” Spiller said, of one of the wettest summers in UK history. But the plans are on track and on budget, with connections at the Cambridge line end being done at the end of November, and overall, Hilton said, Network Rail and Hochtief are happy with the project so far – and with how their alliance is working.

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