Digital

HS2 going digital to save time, cost, carbon

On the most expensive railway on earth, the pressure to get the build right first time is leading to the project team innovating in digital engineering.

In the design and construction of the UK’s HS2, a high-speed rail line connecting London with Birmingham, teams are collaborating and using digital twins to design, construct and maintain the railway. The client, the UK government, hopes to achieve savings in the order of £250 million ($450m) through digital engineering.

Beginning underneath central London, the project team, a joint venture of Skanska, Costain and STRABAG (SCS) needed a digital model that could incorporate the complicated interfaces of building under the ancient metropolis. The system that they turned to is Bentley Systems’ suite of digital tools.

Roberto Alberola, BIM information manager for Typsa which is working for SCS on the project, described why a digital solution was needed.

“The complexity of the project demanded a very high level of control of the technical outputs (models, drawings, data), so the ‘traditional’ approach – using standardized content, trusting existing or external databases and going with software defaults wouldn’t suffice.

“We created a complete custom live working environment for Bentley’s OpenBuildings Designer that lives in ProjectWise, ensuring that the models are built from a centralised library so that all the information is added consistently, achieving the highest data quality required to feed in all the downstream processes.”

Already, with the project in its early construction phases, the benefit of going digital is being realised. Through better sequencing reduced delays have allowed for better control, while enabling improvements in speed, accuracy, and efficiency. Alberola said that using 4D planning has created a 30 per cent reduction in planning time so far.

Not only will using digital tools in the design and construct phase benefit the delivery of the project, but also the project’s outcomes and legacy. The digital solution not only accounts for financial cost, but also the carbon and emissions cost. Reducing waste early on ultimately leads to a better outcome for all stakeholders.

Efficient digital modelling cutting major project costs

It may be a rule of thumb that the larger a rail project is, the more its costs are expected to increase. In Sydney, the construction of the Sydney Metro CBD and Southwest is expected to increase by $3 billion, a 25 per cent increase on the initial costing of $11.5 to 12.5bn. Indeed, the Grattan Institute estimates that every 10 per cent increase in a project’s size is associated with a 6 per cent higher chance of an overrun, and that any overrun that occurs will be 3 per cent larger.

So when you are building the most expensive rail project in the world, the cost overruns could be gigantic. Already, the HS2 project in the UK is estimated to cost as much as £106bn ($208bn), however, the project delivery authority has been told to find at least £500 million in digital efficiencies.

To do so, HS2 Ltd have looked to apply digital best practice in data and modelling requirements, with the requirement to meet PAS 1192 Building Information Modelling (BIM) standards. This standard mandates a fully collaborative 3D BIM, including electronic project and asset information, documentation and data.

Implementing these requirements joint venture Skanska Costain STRABAG (SCS), which has been awarded the civil works contract for the 250km southern section between London and Birmingham. The section, and the project as a whole, will carry the fastest trains in Europe and over 30,000 passengers a day. During early contractor involvement, SCS had to formulate and achieve approval of a conceptual design scheme of 26km of railway within 14 months. To meet the client’s BIM demands, SCS needed to accommodate existing British railway systems and 6,000 utility assets, not to mention the 20km of tunnels, bridges, and five kilometres of earthworks.

Using BIM software from Bentley systems, SCS created a library of components within ProjectWise and OpenBuildings Designer to enable a distributed workforce of six companies including 550 staff across four countries.

“We have 59 nationalities, so quite diverse cultures on the team, and we like to think BIM is the common language we all speak,” said Peter Ruff, head of BIM for SCS.

The SCS team used Assetwise to connect asset information to the design model, so that operations and maintenance could be involved early. This led to an integrated BIM system which allows for real-time access to trusted information.

“We wanted to make sure that everyone, designers and contractors, can use this information,” said Ruff.

The use of Bentley systems in this early stage enabled early clash detection within the project and when interacting with the numerous outside stakeholders. This has already saved an estimated £1 million. Design review time was also reduced by having models and data in a single digital location, which saved £500,000 and the time cost of searching for information spread across multiple systems.

Using a connected digital environment also improved costing processes, an area of focus for SCS, said Ruff.

“One of our key areas that we wanted to improve was our 5D approach, where we use the BIM models to estimate and price from.”

A structured digital data environment ensured consistency and transparency for all stakeholders, enabling further accuracy. This led to a £300,000 saving in a 50 per cent reduction in design changes and 75 per cent less resources used than planned.

Moving forward from the early contractor involvement stage, the SCS team are looking to their BIM strategy underlying the information model which can be used throughout the project lifecycle.

“Using Bentley solutions has allowed us at SCS to realize our mission statement of creating a project that will be seen as the ‘Digital Blueprint of Future Infrastructure Projects’” said Ruff. “They have allowed us to create, manage, and leverage intelligent BIM models and the data housed within them on a complex project and see a significant increase in productivity, efficiencies, and collaboration between a large team and a multistage contract.”

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Notice to proceed issued for HS2

The UK government has issued a ‘notice to proceed’ for companies to begin work on High Speed 2 (HS2).

The decision ensures that construction will go ahead on the controversial project, and confirms that work will progress while the country grapples with the coronavirus (COVID-19) and associated lockdown measures.

The ‘notice to proceed’ is the formal approval for the construction of stage one of the project, from London to the West Midlands. This stage project is split into four work packages awarded to four separate joint ventures. Awarded in 2017, the joint ventures are:

  • SCS Railways (Skanska Construction UK Ltd, Costain Ltd, STRABAG AG);
  • Align JV (Bouygues Travaux Publics SAS, a subsidiary of Bouygues Construction, Sir Robert McAlpine and VolkerFitzpatrick, a subsidiary of VolkerWessels UK);
  • EKBF JV (Eiffage Genie Civil SA, Kier Infrastructure and Overseas Ltd, BAM Nuttall, Ferrovial Agroman); and
  • BBV JV (Balfour Beatty Group Ltd, VINCI Construction Grands Projets, VINCI Construction UK Ltd, VINCI Construction Terrassement).

HS2 Minister, Andrew Stephenson, said that the decision is an assurance to the rail industry.

“Following the decision earlier this year to proceed with the project, this next step provides thousands of construction workers and businesses across the country with certainty at a time when they need it, and means that work can truly begin on delivering this transformational project.”

HS2 Ltd, the public company overseeing HS2, estimates that 400,000 supply chain contracts will be created in phase one of HS2.

“In these difficult times, today’s announcement represents both an immediate boost to the construction industry – and the many millions of UK jobs that the industry supports – and an important investment in Britain’s future: levelling up the country, improving our transport network and changing the way we travel to help bring down carbon emissions and improve air quality for the next generation,” said Mark Thurston, CEO of HS2 Ltd.

The UK government has also published the full business case for the project.

The most expensive railway in the world gets the green light

Eight of the UK’s largest cities will now be connected by rail, following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s approval of the High Speed 2 (HS2). 

During a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday, 11 February, Johnson declared the decision has been taken to proceed with HS2 following consideration of the independent Oakervee review.

Johnson told parliament he plans to appoint a dedicated minister to oversee and manage the project to ensure no “further blowouts on either cost or schedule”.

In a statement released by the Prime Minister’s office, a spokesperson said HS2 will become “the spine” of the country’s transport network.

Grant Shapps, UK Transport Secretary, said the government is clear the project must reform and improve, with clearer accountability and transparency.

“I’ve been clear that we needed all the facts to decide the way forward with HS2,” Shapps said.

“Fully informed by a comprehensive and detailed scrutiny of all the facts, now is the time to drive HS2 forward, alongside a ‘High Speed North’ plan to give the North and Midlands the capacity and connectivity it vitally needs.”

The total HS2 network will be 330 miles. Phase 1 from London to Birmingham and 2a from Birmingham to Crewe is confirmed by Johnson to be constructed, while Phase 2b to Manchester and Leeds will be reviewed.

The project was originally expected to cost around £33 billion and the plan is now estimated at £106bn ($205bn), making HS2 the most expensive railway in the world.

The first stage of the line was approved in 2017 but was put on hold by the Government last year.

Under the current plans, the line is due to be completed in 2040 and Johnson has stated he wants to bring the finish date forward by 5 years to 2035.

The Financial Times has reported that the China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) had written to HS2 Ltd’s chief executive last month, stating they could complete a build of the line in just five years and at a reduced cost.

However, Shapps said on air during a Sunday morning talk show that he has not been in contact with CRCC.

“They have clearly had a letter sent to HS2 Ltd, there has been no conversation with me as a minister, as the secretary of state.”

Shapps said the government would be “fools” to not have a conversation about whether the project could be built faster than the proposed 15 year time frame. 

The UK Department of Transport executives have previously confirmed that preliminary discussions had taken place between CCRC and HS2 Ltd, but there are no “concrete commitments” at this stage.

CRCC has built most of China’s 15,500-mile high-speed network.

Darren Caplan, chief executive of the UK Railway Industry Association, said HS2 could unlock “a new golden age of rail”.

“HS2 will not just boost the UK’s economy and connectivity, but will also enable other major rail infrastructure projects to be delivered too,” Caplan said.

“So we now urge everyone – whatever their previous view on HS2 – to get behind this important project and to work together with the railway industry to deliver the full scheme.”

Supporters say the project is necessary to ease congestion on the core of Britain’s rail network, as current lines share long-distance express, local, and freight services.

The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) said the HS2 line is essential to tackling systemic congestion in the UK transport system. 

A spokesperson for CILT said the institute is urging the Prime Minister, in parallel with HS2 Phase 1 and in advance of HS2 Phase 2b and future HS3/Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) works, investment is also committed to improve the number and size of trains that can operate on existing routes.

The CILT spokesperson said the institute is pleased the project has been given the immediate go-ahead and believes HS2 has a greater benefit for freight.

“Britain’s manufacturers, retailers, and ports are keen to move more of their goods by rail. This will accelerate as the implications of achieving Net Zero carbon by 2050 become clearer,” they said.

“The Institute’s belief is that electric trains carrying goods on the trunk haul, linking with electric-lorries for final delivery to customers in towns and cities, offers an attractive option for near-full decarbonisation of the supply chain once goods reach the UK.”

The UK government appointed Douglas Oakervee to analyse the HS2. The review was published alongside the Prime Minister’s approval announcement last week.

The review that it strongly advises against cancelling the scheme.

“If HS2 were to be cancelled, many years of planning work would be required to identify, design and develop new proposals. The upgrading of existing lines would also come at a high passenger cost with significant disruption,” the review document stated.

Douglas Oakervee, Chair of the independently-led review into HS2 said he is proud of the work that the review panel has carried out.

“The Review’s Report is a comprehensive appraisal of a challenging project. I believe the recommendations help offer it a way forward,” Oakervee said.

Once it is built, journeys will be shorter. London to Birmingham travel times will be cut from one hour, 21 minutes to 52 minutes, according to the Department for Transport.