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CN Briefing: Crossrail railway systems; Tarmac; Berkeley Group's Tony Pidgeley speaks; CITB

Europe’s biggest infrastructure project is now on the home stretch, with contractors preparing Crossrail’s tunnels for the first trains in 2018.

Until last week, I hadn’t had the privilege of visiting an active Crossrail site.

And then, just like London transport’s most famous joke, two came along at once.

My first visit took me underneath central London to see where the most complex kind of track is going to be laid – the floating track slab.

The trip involved a 150-step descent at the Fisher Street shaft near Holborn station, before a 30-minute walk eastwards through the tunnels to the work site (walking out was fairly easy – doing it in reverse with a long trudge upstairs at the end, less so).

On the way our group passed through Tottenham Court Road station, walking where the tracks will eventually be. The massive station fit-out project was sealed off from us on the far side of a screen to ensure the tunnel ventilation system worked properly - a good enough reason for us not to see it as far as I was concerned.

As we approached Bond Street, contractor ATC explained the process by which track will be laid; Crossrail is using super high-density concrete underneath Soho and the Barbican to reduce noise (we could hear Northern line trains rumbling nearby as we were told this).

My second visit, two days later, took me to Westbourne Park to visit Tarmac’s new concrete batching plant, which sits on an adjacent site to Crossrail.

I was shown around by Tarmac’s Joseph Kirwin, a Mancunian and enthusiastic proponent of the virtues of concrete. Mr Kirwin was excited by the high-tech plant that opened in January and now churns out 7,000 cu m of concrete per month.

The proximity of the Crossrail site allows Tarmac to be flexible when providing ATC with the concrete it needs.

I was provided with an unintended demonstration of this when Crossrail couldn’t get the train transporting the concrete to start at 8am as planned – but rather than derailing the day’s work, delivery was delayed by only an hour, with Tarmac supplying other customers in the meantime.

It was a great example of close collaboration between contractor and material supplier at work; you can see the process for yourself in our latest video.

Crossrail continues to capture the imagination of people both within and outside the industry, and it’s not hard to see why when you witness the latest batch of images from inside the tunnels.

The current phase of the project - the railway systems installation - will leave the tunnels ready for the trains.

And after that, it will be time for the industry to build on the goodwill created and turn its attention to making Crossrail 2 as big a success as its older brother.

In the news

Deputy news editor Robyn Wilson spoke to Berkeley Group chairman Tony Pidgley, who as you might expect, had some interesting things to say. He criticised the government’s housing “ideology”, saying it was too skewed towards home ownership, and he called the campaign against his 30-storey tower at West End Green in West London, plans for which were approved this week, “ridiculous”.

And CITB has shaken up its approach to funding with new training tie-ups ranging from major contractors to specialist SMEs. We’ve got the full list.

In depth

If Crossrail’s concrete isn’t enough for you, check out the rest of our concrete special report. And look out for even more content going live tomorrow.

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