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Crossrail chief: 'We will move the industry forward'

Almost four years after he challenged the industry to improve in his Never Waste a Good Crisis report, Crossrail chief executive Andrew Wolstenholme is showing he is not afraid to lay down the law to suppliers.

At the helm of Europe’s largest construction project, Mr Wolstenholme has an enormous challenge trying to keep the project on time, on budget and, in many respects, out of the headlines.

In 2009 he said the economic crisis was “the perfect opportunity for us to restart the process and create a built environment sector this country deserves”, and it is clear he is determined to leave the industry in a better place as a result of Crossrail.

The project has faced setbacks in the past year, be it from tunnelling being halted unexpectedly, problems transporting spoil at Westbourne Park and allegations of blacklisting, which Crossrail has consistently denied. But the scheme has kept moving.

A total of £5.5 billion in work has now been procured and five tunnel boring machines are worming their way through the ground beneath the feet of one of the world’s largest cities.

Image conscious

Rather than simply trying to avoid cracks appearing in the £14.8bn programme, Crossrail’s chief executive is hoping to make this project radically alter perceptions of an industry often viewed as being decades behind the best in the world.

“If you want a footprint that doesn’t just look after London and the South-east, that doesn’t just look after first-tier suppliers, then look at what we are doing”

Andrew Wolstenholme, Crossrail

“Crossrail is a size and scale that is getting everybody to look,” Mr Wolstenholme says. “We have enquiries coming in from the Middle East, from north America and Europe. They all want something different.

“Some say ‘how do you procure your programme partner, how do you set up the governance to spend £10bn or £15bn on a programme like Crossrail?’.

“This is a good news story for London, it’s a good news story for UK plc and it doesn’t matter where you sit in Britain. If you want a footprint that doesn’t just look after London and the South-east, that doesn’t just look after first-tier suppliers, then look at what we are doing.”

Innovative drive

He is not afraid to use his position, and the financial and political muscle of Crossrail, to ensure first-tier suppliers change their behaviour and commit to sharing opportunities and ideas by what he describes as “locking them in” to an innovation forum.

He describes visiting an advanced manufacturing centre at Coventry, one of seven facilities that form part of technology and innovation centres called Catapults, backed by the Technology Strategy Board where engineers and scientists work on research and development.

He says: “There isn’t [a Catapult] for construction. It seems to me that we are now on the cusp in this sector to be ready for taking on innovation in a way that we haven’t for the last 10 or 20 years.

“I want to encourage the supply chain to give up ideas and share them so you can actually benefit from that accelerated learning path”

Andrew Wolstenholme, Crossrail

“Why is it that automotive and aerospace [industries] took on full digital modelling and saw the value through its lifecycle 10 and even 20 years ago and we are only now beginning to wake up to the true value it provides?

“I am trying to do a mini-Catapult, to get all my 16 [tier one] suppliers to put some skin in the game. We provide matched funding and then have a more formal process of at one level, passing good ideas around, and at another level, taking people’s intellectual property and finding out how you can safely share it.

“You look at the Catapult programme and the question is could it work for railways and construction? I see no reason why it shouldn’t.”

Industry legacy

The associated development benefits to Crossrail are many, and each will leave a lasting legacy on the construction industry, from supporting 3.25 million sq m of new commercial developments to the training opportunities via the Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy (TUCA) in Ilford and the Bentley BIM academy.

The creation of a 1,500-acre nature reserve at Wallasea Island in Essex, expected to receive 100,000 tourists a year, will be created from millions of cubic metres of spoil excavated during tunnelling – a way of “turning a challenge into an opportunity”, as Mr Wolstenholme puts it.

And the benefits to UK firms won’t stop here, he says, with overseas delegations seeking to learn from Crossrail about how to procure a programme partner, or to understand the governance structure under joint sponsors Transport for London and the Department for Transport.

“I wouldn’t say international clients are lining up, but there is huge interest and curiosity about what we’re doing and clearly a lot of that is going to be very exportable,” Mr Wolstenholme says.

Economic boosts

With economic infrastructure among the biggest political footballs of the past year, Crossrail’s chief executive is keen to point to the twin benefits of short-term employment and long-term associated growth as a “huge vote of confidence for why it is a good thing to invest in public infrastructure”, but that the most important thing is cross-party political support.

Regarding Crossrail 2, he says it will be “easier to get political alignment” and that the funding package mix of public and private contributions on Crossrail makes it easier for the second scheme to follow seamlessly.

He insists the industry has to grab responsibility for TUCA, for which he expects Crossrail to “hand over the baton” in the next 18 months, most probably to a utility firm – be it Thames Water for its tideway tunnel, or even EDF for its new nuclear project at Hinkley Point C.

“Companies are beginning to understand that if there’s a pipeline of strategic infrastructure programmes, which is what the industry has been asking for for some time, then the industry should respond by having a fully skilled workforce to deliver that,” he says.

“[TUCA] is the first soft-clay training academy in Europe. We’re very proud of the fact that we have provided leadership for that and the skills training this industry needs to keep on delivering economic infrastructure through that national pipeline.”

Crossrail’s key dates: 2013-14

Q1 2013: Crossrail appoints Howard Smith as operations director. A Skanska/Costain joint venture wins the £110m Bond Street station contract.

Q1 2013: Balfour Beatty wins £130m deal for construction of a two-mile route for Network Rail. Crossrail announces £1bn rolling stock and depot deal will be entirely publicly funded, scrapping private finance plans and need for a UK Guarantee.

Q2 2013: Crossrail due to award C610 contract worth around £400m for the major fit-out of rail tunnels from five bidders.

Q2 2013: Tenders invited for detailed design and construction on north-eastern stations.

Q2-Q3 2013: Two contracts awarded from five bidders for detailed design and construction of 13 stations on Crossrail’s Acton Main Line to Maidenhead.

Q3/Q4 2013: Crossrail’s sixth and seventh tunnelling machines to begin work at Plumstead and Pudding Mill Lane. Completion of the 6 km western tunnel section between Royal Oak and Farringdon expected by the end of the year.

Q1 2014: Crossrail expected to publish its first learning document for the industry.

Q2 2014: Winner of the £1bn rolling stock deal due to be announced.

So this year and next, the programme’s focus will start to shift from it being a heavy, civil engineering project, to a railway systems project – one of the reasons why TfL chief operating officer for rail Howard Smith has recently been appointed as Crossrail’s operations director.

And it is clear the project’s chief executive will continue to demand that Crossrail offers more than just delivering on time and budget.

“The way in which normal clients ask supply chains to respond is best value on a one-off product,” Mr Wolstenholme says.

He adds: “It will be an exciting 2013 ahead, the programme is going well. A project of this size and scale will always have challenges. That’s why I’ve got a great team of suppliers around us, a good leadership team around me.”

He added: “I don’t want to waste the opportunity for Crossrail to give that back to the industry. [I want] to encourage the supply chain to give up ideas and share them so whether you’re a supply chain in the east or west you can actually benefit from that accelerated learning path.”

“We will deliver this within the [funding] envelope and move the industry forward at the same time.”

Andrew Wolstenholme

  • Graduated from Southampton University in 1981 with a first-class honours degree in civil engineering.
  • Served in the British Army for five years and pursued a career in engineering after he resigned his commission in 1985. Joined Arup as a bridge designer.
  • Worked with Schal Associates in Chicago and moved to Hong Kong in 1992 where he worked on projects including Hong Kong Airport and the Western Harbour Tunnel Crossing.
  • Joined BAA in 1997 as construction director on the Heathrow Express Rail Link. 
  • Served as programme director on London Heathrow’s £4.3bn Terminal 5 and later as BAA’s director of capital projects.
  • Joined Balfour Beatty in 2009 and authored Never Waste a Good Crisis, a report which examined the industry’s progress since Sir John Egan’s 1998 Rethinking Construction report.
  • Appointed as Crossrail chief executive in May 2011, succeeding Rob Holden.
  • Leads a committee that merges the work carried out by working groups on the Government Construction Strategy and Infrastructure Cost Review after he previously chaired the Government Construction Strategy steering committee.
  • Awarded an OBE for services to the construction industry in June 2009.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Why do Crossrail insist on 5% retention on construction packages for suppliers that have contracts lasting 3 to 4 years when best contractors are only achieving nett 2% . Unhelpfull and not inline with clients who have changed their practices on retention.

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