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Borders under new management

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Six years ago, a procession of Railway Bills before the Scottish Parliament resulted in Acts for Edinburgh Tram (29.3.06), Waverley Railway (14.6.06), Glasgow Airport Link (29.11.06), Edinburgh Airport Link (14.3.07) and Airdrie to Bathgate (28.3.07).

Unfortunately, the promise of these Acts was not fully realised. The lines to Edinburgh and Glasgow Airports were not built, and Edinburgh Tram is a case study of how not to manage an infrastructure project. To date, only the Airdrie Bathgate project has been completed, on time and to budget.

But the Borders Rail project, previously the Waverley Railway, will provide a 49 kilometre non-electrified line from Edinburgh to Tweedbank, largely on the trackbed of the line between Edinburgh and Carlisle that closed in 1969. In April 2011 (issue 78), the rail engineer reported on Transport Scotland’s use of a novel Design, Build, Finance and Maintain (DBFM) contract for the main project works which were expected to start late in 2011 for a December 2014 completion. This also did not go to plan with two of the original three consortia withdrawing. Transport Scotland were not willing to award a DBFM contract to a single bidder so instead turned to Network Rail with their proven track record of delivering the Airdrie Bathgate (A2B) project.

Different but similar projects

Much of the credit for A2B’s success must go to Hugh Wark, senior project manager, and his team who now find themselves managing the Borders Rail project. Hugh clearly relishes the challenge of another new Scottish railway which has both similarities and differences to Borders Rail. He feels that the team “has learnt a lot on A2B, all positive things we take to the Borders”. Similarities are management of consents, working with neighbours, commissioning a new railway, significant roadworks and utility work on the same scale as A2B.

Borders Rail has minimal interface with the existing rail network, unlike A2B which doubled lines at both its ends and electrified 61km of existing railway. Programme constraints associated with work on the existing railway required A2B to have multiple contract packages so Network Rail had to control the overall design. In contrast, the main Borders Rail works can be let as a single package, allowing early contractor involvement in line with Network Rail’s supplier engagement policy. This enables the contractor to offer design ideas, particularly in respect of constructability. Also a single contractor can provide a better focus and take a more active role in managing neighbour relations.

Work to date

In September 2011, Network Rail joined in the management of the project with Transport Scotland who remain the authorised undertaker with legal responsibility for the project. Hence it is Transport Scotland who issue the land entry notices although Network Rail intends to take over this role later this year. However before doing so it has to develop design and assess constructability to produce a robust cost estimate and a programme to be agreed with both Transport Scotland and the Office of the Rail Regulation. Network Rail cannot become the authorised undertaker until these agreements are in place and there is approval from its board. Until this is done main works cannot be authorised and so are unlikely to start until late 2012.

Nevertheless, a large amount of advanced work has been completed or is already planned. Starting in March 2010, it includes utility work, site investigations and scour protection. Since Network Rail became involved, buildings on the line have been demolished and large scale devegetation carried out to facilitate structural assessment and investigations for mining remediation. Contractors QTS have also erected 20km of fencing. Hugh advises that a lesson from A2B was the need to fence off project land as early as possible. Works to be undertaken soon are those to give farmers access where they can no longer use the solum, mining remediation work, more fencing and drainage works – at one location a landowner had received a grant to create a wetlands habitat on the old trackbed.

Environmental works are required to ensure compliance with the project’s Code of Construction Practice (CoCP), a legal requirement of the Projects Act. The line runs through a particularly sensitive area for which the CoCP specifies particular constraints, for example work in or over the River Gala is restricted to three months per year. Ongoing ecological work is the removal of bats, using one way bat valves over their roosts, and badgers.

There were many mines under the north end of line, as indicated by the adjacent Scottish Mining Museum. Hence there is a need for mining remediation which will start in September and will take around six months. Hugh explains that, although the new alignment is to be fully remediated to modern standards (1 in 10 rock cover), a pragmatic risk-based approach is being taken for the old trackbed which previously carried trains.

The Framework Contract

The above works are intended to minimise the time for project completion. Another piece of work intended to do this is letting the an Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) framework contract. After a tender competition, this was awarded in March this year to BAM Nutthall, who had anyway been the last remaining bidder for the previous DBFM contract. It is a £2 million contract for advanced works and further project design work for which Atkins is the main designer with URS assessing bridges and Donaldsons doing earthwork design.

There is also an option for main works to be done by the contractor and to increase the contract value as a result. This potentially saves some months as it avoids letting a new main works contract. BAM have to submit a proposal for each work package which, if acceptable to Network Rail, will be awarded quickly, though BAM have no guarantee that they will get all the work on the project. Hugh advises that, when proposals are considered, price is not the only consideration. For example, an important issue for Network Rail is the respective risk allocation between client and contractor for issues such as utilities, planning and land.

Letting the framework contract was time a consuming task which, of necessity, involved large amounts of paper with technical specifications and contract conditions. The role of the procurement team in putting all this together, and ensuring that contractor’s bids were correctly assessed, is perhaps one of the unsung aspects of project management. Hugh advises that, as well as commercial considerations, the criteria used to evaluate the Borders framework contract included technical input, programming ideas and resource management strategy including management of sub contractors.

Thinking about maintenance

Transport Scotland’s original DBFM contract included maintenance of the line for 30 years to ensure the contractor’s design took account of maintenance. So how does Network Rail address this issue? Hugh explains that project design options considered 30 year maintenance cost and that Scotland’s newly appointed director of asset management has to agree the project design.

Moreover, the project has many existing bridges for which Network Rail, with its greater asset base, can take a more pragmatic view that a DBFM contractor.

A comment made by Gavin Gerrard of BAM Nuttall at an Institution of Civil Engineers presentation provides an interesting insight. Gavin advised that the previous DBFM contract had forced BAM Nuttall to think about maintenance as never before. It significantly influenced their initial design and that experience has enabled them to offer design suggestions to reduce maintenance cost. One example was their suggestion that, compared with steel, shorter concrete beams with retained earthwork parapets is the cheapest way of bridging a gap. So it would seem that, although DBFM is dead, its influence lives on.

The new Waverley route

For its first 3.6km, the line is a new alignment with a station at Shawfair, significant roadworks and a crossing under the Edinburgh City Bypass. After rejoining the old solum, new viaducts at Hardengreen roundabout and Gorebridge are required, with spans of 190 and 120 metres respectively, where the A7 road has cut the old railway. Between these new viaducts is the line’s signature structure, the 23-arch Newbattle viaduct which is still in good condition. Stations are to be provided at Eskbank, Newtongrange and Gorebridge.

After Gorebridge, the line climbs to the 271 metre high Falahill summit and then descends by the twisting Gala Water over 16 bridges, 14 of which are still in place. Passing through Stow station, the line reaches Galashiels where there is a new embankment with underbridges over the new road layout. After leaving Galashiels, an original viaduct takes the line over the River Tweed where it terminates at the new Tweedbank station.

The line will have three dynamic loops, the exact locations of which are still to be defined as consideration is being given to avoiding double tracking at some structures. One such location is Bowshanks tunnel which is brick lined in poor rock. Here, the passive provision for any future electrification clearance presents significant problems if the tunnel is double tracked. With the trackbed being is close to river level, the option of lowering the track could be difficult.

A day on the line

The rail engineer last visited the project February 2011, so a day on site with scheme project manager David Elvy provided an interesting opportunity to see what has changed. Almost all the buildings on the solum have now been demolished, including industrial units at Galashiels. Some fencing has also been erected and the most noticeable work has been large scale vegetation clearance. He explained that, as far as possible, this was done in a sensitive manner – for example he was able to save a row of trees planted by residents in Galashiels. During this visit, Amey’s engineers, working for Network Rail maintenance, could be seen assessing earthworks to inform project design and for handback when the line becomes operational.

David outlined some of the construction challenges faced by the project. Many alternative routes for roads and pedestrians have to be provided before work can commence on the solum with many requiring time-consuming utility work. He felt that work on river bridges that can only be carried out for three months a year will present the greatest programme challenge.

Some of the old railway’s cuttings have been filled with spoil from improvements to the adjacent A7 road. Removal of this and other debris will require many lorry movements, although some track lifting will reuse a portion of the excavated material. New material for the trackbed will also have to be brought onto site, so David has put a great deal of thought into the traffic management plan to control these movements. For example, lorries will be kept out Galashiels as much as possible and so some will have to take a longer route via the A68.

How much and when?

It is now six years since the Waverley Railway (Scotland) Act 2006 was passed and Network Rail has been involved with the project for less than a year. So it is understandable that, with the work involved in producing a robust estimate, Network Rail cannot yet commit to a project cost and completion date. From the work done so far Hugh is hopeful that Network Rail can meet project cost requirements, currently estimated to be £235 to £295 million.

The Scottish Government is still committed to a December 2014 completion and Network Rail is working with Transport Scotland to see if this date can be achieved. With main construction starting over a year later than was envisaged early in 2011, this is clearly a challenging target.

Whatever the eventually agreed cost and programme, Hugh’s team’s track record together with BAM Nuttall’s longer project involvement give confidence that it will be delivered to the agreed cost and time.

David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEM
David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEMhttp://therailengineer.com

Rolling stock, depots, Scottish and Russian railways

David Shirres joined British Rail in 1968 as a scholarship student and graduated in Mechanical Engineering from Sussex University. He has also been awarded a Diploma in Engineering Management by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

His roles in British Rail included Maintenance Assistant at Slade Green, Depot Engineer at Haymarket, Scottish DM&EE Training Engineer and ScotRail Safety Systems Manager.

In 1975, he took a three-year break as a volunteer to manage an irrigation project in Bangladesh.

He retired from Network Rail in 2009 after a 37-year railway career. At that time, he was working on the Airdrie to Bathgate project in a role that included the management of utilities and consents. Prior to that, his roles in the privatised railway included various quality, safety and environmental management posts.

David was appointed Editor of Rail Engineer in January 2017 and, since 2010, has written many articles for the magazine on a wide variety of topics including events in Scotland, rail innovation and Russian Railways. In 2013, the latter gave him an award for being its international journalist of the year.

He is also an active member of the IMechE’s Railway Division, having been Chair and Secretary of its Scottish Centre.


  1. Great to see the project commencing and coming to fruitation. I am 76years old as a boy my pal and I sat on the railway bridge at Hardengreen, We were members of the Ian Allen Railspotters Club. My Wife and I were at one of the Public Meetings,at Gorebridge.I stay at Loanhead. If permitted I would be very interested in coming down to the site at Monktonhall and viewing what is being installed. I am not being noisey but very interested.

    My Email Address : [email protected]
    Home Phone Number 0131 448 2616

    Looking forward to hearing from You
    Yours Bill Smith


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