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How the East London Line extension got back on track

REGENERATION - Improved transport systems are vital to the regeneration of east London. After years of planning and wrangling over the funding, the East London Line extension is finally up and running. Phil Bishop reports on the work to be done and meets

ON JUNE 10 Taylor Woodrow began work on a £30 million enabling works contract, signalling the start of construction on the £1 billion first phase of the East London Line extension.

The project's first phase will provide a 15minute train service between West Croydon, to the south of the capital, through east London and Docklands, up to Dalston in north-east London. If all goes to plan, trains will start serving the public in June 2010, well ahead of the London Olympics, for which the new service will provide access for many visitors.

A second phase to follow later will add a spur at the north end to Highbury & Islington, and, midway along the line, another spur from Surrey Quays to Clapham Junction.

The project came to life in the 1990s on the drawing board of London Underground Limited. In 2000 the Government t ransfer red responsibility to the Strategic Rail Authority, since the rail service, signalling and trains are to be of the overground main line type rather than of the Tube type. Under the SRA the project was prepared right up to the stage where, by December 2003, the team was ready to call for tenders in the Official Journal but Government funding failed to materialise. Six months later the decision was made to transfer the project to Transport for London, under the auspices of the Greater London Assembly and mayor Ken Livingstone. By November 2004 the team had completed the move across to TfL and the project was finally alive.

Despite the scope of the rail service the project will result in, the actual construction work involved in the first phase is surprisingly limited. 'We are only building two or three hundred metres of railway here, ' says Mike Stubbs, TfL's head of engineering for the project. The whole point of the East London Line Project, he explains, is to make use of existing infrastructure. From West Croydon in the south to New Cross Gate, trains will run on the exist ing Br ighton main line. At New Cross Gate a grade separated junction will be built to connect to the exist ing East London Line, which includes the Thames Tunnel. North of Whitechapel, the track will be elevated out of the existing cutting and raised onto a new viaduct, across a new bow string arch bridge over the Great Eastern line, onto another stretch of new viaduct and then along the Kingsland viaduct to Dalston Junction.

This viaduct was closed when the Broadgate development began in 1986. There will also be four new stations built along the route.

'The challenge, ' says Mr Stubbs, 'is to put a new railway on old infrastructure that doesn't meet modern standards. The challenge will be: are the existing structures good enough or do we have to rebuild them? We don't have too many worries about the Brunel tunnel ? which dates back to 1860 ? as it was refurbished in 1998. It's the bits either side that are the issue. There are some known issues. Some parapets need upgrading, for instance.' Replacing or refu rbishing 21 br idges on the Kingsland viaduct is part of the enabling works that Taylor Wood row is car rying out, as well as waterproofing the structure. Taywood is also doing some repairs on an underpass at Cold Blow Lane in Lewisham, since some work must be carried out on the southern end of the line before June 2006 to keep the planning perm issions alive.

The main works contract, valued at £400 million to £450 million, will be awarded in June 2006, just as the enabling works complete.

Prequalif icat ion closed on July 14 th is year.

Project director Peter Richardson says the main works are being let as a single contract, rather than in packages '? so that we could be satisfied that the contractor meets the requirement for transparently managing the interface between packages'.

On projects such as this, the points at which one contractor's work meets with another's obviously have the potential to result in problems and claims.

Having one contractor reduces these risks.

The final structure of the contract has not been decided but it is likely to be a combination of target cost and lump sum because of some uncertainty about the amount of work needed on some of the old infrastructure.

'With grey assets, it is more prudent to go down the target cost route rather than the lump sum route, ' says Mr Richardson.

But partnering is not appropriate here. 'It will be a partnership with a small p, ' he says. 'We are not going down the full partnering route but I'm a collaborative type of person. I don't think the client team is a mature enough organisation for the partnering route.

It doesn't have the experience or the relationships in place. BAA didn't go down the partnering route on the first contract it awarded. TfL needs to start building those relationships and then see where we go.' Mr R ichardson has no par t icular concerns about keeping to the budget. 'We've got contingencies in there. The budget is robust, ' he says.

After all, the construction work is reasonably straightforward. He adds: 'We made the decision to use tried and tested technology on the project. We didn't want any th ing new.' Even the rolling stock and signalling are standard products used elsewhere on the rail network.

'I am comfortable that our overall management strategy will support the delivery of the project, ' says Mr Richardson. If he has any concern, he says, it is purely about the logistics of spending something approaching a million pounds a day at peak.

The client project managers are resolutely not treating this as a construction project.

'I have emphasised that this is not about great bridges but about delivering an operable railway.

If you look at the Channel Tunnel, the challenges were at the systems end, ' Mr Stubbs says.

A systematic approach to the engineering has been taken. 'Planning the project backwards, ' Mr Stubbs explains. 'Determining what we need at the end and then see how we get there, what we need to do at the f ront end.' Mr Richardson concurs. 'The concept is building an operational railway rather than just a piece of infrastructure, ' he says.

Both men worked on the Jubilee Line extension project and have taken the lessons on board.

'It was clearly demonstrated there that individual disciplines were very good at what they do, but the challenge was integrating them, ' says Mr Richardson.

'Using a systematic engineering approach actively manages the interfaces between the different aspects.' Audits are used to ensure that documents that need to be seen by var ious par t ies and acted upon really do get acted upon.

He adds: 'It is understanding how the whole thing f its together and then managing that very t ightly.' This philosophy reinforces the decision to go for a single main works contract.

Another aspect that bidding contractors will need to take on board is that th is is now a Ken Livingstone project. As such, they should not be su rpr ised to hear that they will be expected to demonstrate a commitment to diversity and inclusivity.

This railway runs through the heart of one of the poorest parts of the country in east London.

'This is a regeneration project as much as a transport project, ' says Peter Boxell, director of communications and stakeholder management.

'Diversity and inclusivity will be a contractual requirement. We are discussing how far we can go.' There will not be specified quotas relating to ethnicity, gender or physical ability, he clarifies, but points will definitely be scored by contractors who demonstrate a commitment to social issues.

Contractors who miss out on this prize can look forward to the massive development opportunities ? as much as £10 billion-worth ? on the back of the project. Bishopsgate goods yard will be ripe for development, says Mr Stubbs, and there will be air r ights oppor tunit ies over stat ions at Dalston Junction, Wapping and Shoreditch.