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Costain – The benefits of world-class experience

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Costain’s current annual accounts include a section which analyses the current UK market spend in power, oil & gas, water, nuclear, highways and rail, estimated to be £92 billion per annum. It also identifies the market spend addressable to Costain alone for each of the sectors. Rail, at £26 billion per year (overall spend, including Network Rail, Crossrail, HS2 and others), accounts for approximately 28 per cent of that total market, of which the proportion of rail addressable by Costain is approximately £7 billion.

What is the relevance of this? Well, it shows that, while rail is very important to Costain, Costain is also very important to the rail industry. The company not only has the potential to account for 27 per cent of the total rail spend but it is also developing a workforce with a level of expertise in rail that is invaluable and “World Class”, but more of that later!

Ross MacKenzie is Costain’s strategic development director, so who better to explain the steps that the company has taken over recent years to put itself in this deservedly influential and advantageous position within the industry.

Catalyst for change

Ross explained that the acquisition in 2015 of Rhead Group, a professional services consultancy with a focus on programme and commercial management, was the catalyst for change within the company. It added a skill base that complemented the delivery skills that Costain was renowned for.

Costain has always had strong professional services offerings in other sectors and, over the last few years, has increasingly provided constructability advice to the world’s major rail schemes. This is in addition to delivering some of Europe’s most complex contracts, one of which, the re-development of London Bridge station, has been well recorded by Rail Engineer. In November 2011, Costain was awarded the contract by Network Rail to transform this, the UK’s fourth busiest station, to meet growing national transport needs by increasing both passenger and rail capacity at the station by nearly 50 per cent.

The redevelopment of the 180-year-old station is now well advanced. It is being completed over nine phases and they all require major rail possessions, which has necessitated years of meticulous planning. The biggest challenge has been to ensure the station remains fully operational at all times, to minimise disruption to passengers, a process that has been described as “undertaking open- heart surgery whilst the patient is still awake”.

Costain has carried out the detailed design and delivery of this major infrastructure project, including a new concourse at street level said to be the size of Wembley Stadium. The work is now at an advanced stage offering an increase in passenger capacity from around 50 million to 75 million.

The London Bridge project has engaged in an array of sustainability initiatives and practices. These include striving to maintain a fit and healthy workforce, reducing the use of natural resources, eliminating waste, maximising talent and skills and integrating business into the community in order to address the issue of low employment in the London Borough of Southwark. All this knowledge must find a way into the industry if it is to continue to improve.

Experience adding value

Costain now has a team of 1,200 specialist industry professionals who have benefited from being associated with a variety of rail projects- including London Bridge – which, as Ross pointed out, have become an important part of their career development. Also, as customers begin to understand the value that Costain can add to a project, they are involving the company much earlier in the design process.

An example of this is the planned reconstruction of the station at Gatwick Airport. Costain is working with client organisations to define project requirements in line with the business case, producing concept design, early stage cost planning and identification of a delivery strategy that minimises operational disruption. Current involvement is for GRIP 2, 3 and 4 (from feasibility through to single option development).

Another example of early involvement in a project resulting in improved delivery was the reconstruction of the Dover sea wall, which had partially collapsed over Christmas in 2015. Initially thought to be a two-year programme of work, it was completed by Costain in only nine months. A collaborative, trusting partnership with Network Rail allowed Costain to take steps in the early stages of the project to speed up delivery – for example, reducing the number of types of pile from nine to three simplified the work and ensured a timely completion. Drones were also used to monitor condition and movement of the wall and surrounding embankments.

Diverse level of expertise

Costain has been involved in High Speed 2 phase 1 since 2012, with an advisory team working on the Hybrid Bill submission, adding real value to the project by providing constructability advice. As a result, the company was awarded the South Enabling Works Contract for High Speed 2 on 16 November 2016.

The contract covers the essential preparatory work needed to deliver the main HS2 programme on time and to budget. It is already creating jobs and training opportunities across Costain’s UK-wide supply chain and work has already started. These early stages involve establishing relationships with the numerous stakeholders, negotiating to agree demolition, diversion of major utilities and numerous other preparatory works.

An essential core requirement is to ensure that all project teams have a complete skill set, so they now employ a substantial number of experienced track, signalling and systems engineers. These specialist industry professionals are working across the sector to deliver a holistic rail service, focused on collaborative working with customers, innovation and whole-life costs designed to create more sustainable and manageable infrastructure assets.

Recognised as World Class

As a result of this good work in the UK, Costain’s reputation is now moving further afield to Australia where, in Sydney, Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW) is planning to spend £30 billion over the next four years. Representatives visited the UK and were so impressed with the work being carried out at London Bridge and other Crossrail projects that they considered Costain to be ‘World Class’ and invited the company to review plans for Central Station, which has similarities with London Bridge in that the plans are to construct a concourse area underneath the existing live tracks of the station.

The technical challenge is that there is only 1.7 metres of clearance from the underside of the existing track level to the concourse roof slab. It’s a challenge that Ross’s team is relishing, and is currently carrying out a peer review to detect any constructability issues as well as assessing the feasibility of the scheme. Also, as part of the consultancy service, the team is assessing potential risks and benefits, as well as possible alternatives, thus adding value to the client.

The next phase is to advise on methodologies and the constructability of the station. The proposal is for a split-level box with punch columns, escalators and lift shafts. Using its expertise from yet another highly complex contract, Crossrail’s C405 at Paddington, Costain has been able to provide the customer with logistical and construction advice.

Similarly, Costain has been involved with TfNSW on the methodology and constructability of Sydney Metro City and Southwest Stations and Corridor (SSC) Project, using experience gained on its Crossrail C610 system-wide fit-out project.

Acknowledgement of world-class expertise is a high compliment indeed. Sometimes the amazing engineering achievements that have been carried out over the last decade or so can tend to de dismissed or undersold.

As Ross pointed out, delivering big contracts is a value-added experience which creates an opportunity for this to be fed back in at the front end by people who are experts in delivery. Lessons have to be learnt and they have to be injected back into the system at the planning stage, and that is exactly what Costain is managing to do and that is why the company is being acknowledged as ‘World Class’, which is a credit to the whole team.

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