UK public infrastructure projects hang in the balance 25 Jul 2019

Shani Wallis, TunnelTalk

As Boris Johnson takes up residence in No 10 Downing Street as the new Prime Minister of the UK, the future of major public investment projects for the country hang in the balance. Not only is the prospect of a no-deal exit of Britain from the European Union (EU) a real threat for the country and its economy, so too is the falling value of the British currency, which has fallen by up to 15% against the Euro since the country voted to leave the EU in June 2016.

Full scope of the HS2 project
Full scope of the HS2 project

HS2, the high-speed rail link, is the highest profile public investment project that hangs in the balance under the new administration. Boris Johnson is a known skeptic of the flagship project to link the north and south of the country. The future of the project was not helped either by recent announcement from the project delivery organisation, HS2 Ltd, that raised doubts that the full Phase 1 and 2 scope of the project, to link London to Birmginham and on up to Edinburgh and Glagow, can be delivered for the estimated £56 billion, commenting that an additional £30 billion may be needed to complete the dedicated high speed railway (Fig 1). Estimated at £27.18 billion, in 2015 prices, Phase 1 between London and Birmingham is currently in development and is scheduled by HS2 to be operational by late 2026.

The one optimistic hope among those leading the project, is that its development has advanced too far for any political change of administration to bring it to a halt. In a recent interview with the BBC news channel, HS2 Ltd CEO Mark Thurston, who has led the project since March 2017, addressed the question head on. He said that more than 9,000 jobs depend directly on the project and that more than £5 billion has been spent on developing the project to date. “This is a long term strategic investment,” he said “with an estimated £56 billion to be invested over 25 years to build the full scope of the link north to Edinburgh and Glasgow and bring transformational change to transportation across the country and further on.”

He continued, saying that: “all major public investment projects divide opinion. The same was true of the Channel Tunnel” but like the Channel Tunnel, “future generations will thank us” for realising the project against hurdles thrown into its way. He did accept also that there is suggestion that the project be amended to terminate in London at Old Oak Common and drop the link into Euston Station as the London Terminus for services. Against this he defended the current project saying that the project needs to be city centre to city centre to bring the greatest benefit, part of which is to add transportation capacity to currently overstretched public transport services including the London Underground, and to help also achieve climate change goals by reducing carbon emissions. This will have been some comfort to the teams currently working on the Euston-Old Oak Common link and the redevelopment of Euston Station to increase capacity and accommodate the HS2 terminus, all of which is aligned underground and comprise one of the most expensive elements of the Phase 1 project.

HS2 CEO Mark Thurston
HS2 CEO Mark Thurston

Standing by to know more from the new Boris Johnson Government will be the designers working on the project and construction teams that have been engaged as preferred contractors through the detailed design and development stages before contracts are finalised for advancing into construction. Among these include the following appointments.

The partnership of design engineering firms CH2M, Atkins and SENER was engaged in March 2016 as Phase 1 Engineering Delivery Partner to be integrated fully within the HS2 Ltd organisation to manage the mega project.

In July 2017 the following construction teams were engaged as preferred delivery partners for the 240km long Phase 1 route sections:

Construction sections for Phase 1 of the route
Construction sections for Phase 1 of the route

Area South

  • S1: Euston Tunnels and Approaches – Skanska/Costain/Strabag JV
  • S2: Northolt Tunnels – Skanska/Costain/Strabag JV

Area Central

  • C1: Chiltern Tunnels and Colne Valley Viaduct – Bouygues/VolkerFitzpatrick/Sir Robert McAlpine
  • C2: North Portal Chiltern Tunnels to Brackley – Eiffage/Kier JV
  • C3: Brackley to South Portal of Long Itchington Wood Green Tunnel – Eiffage/Kier JV

Area North

  • N1: Long Itchington Wood Green Tunnel to Delta Junction and Birmingham Spur – Balfour Beatty/Vinci JV
  • N2: Delta Junction to WCML Tie-In – Balfour Beatty/Vinci JV

Excavation of the 39km of twin running tunnels are included under Phase I of the project. For the longest underground section of the route the Skanska/Costain/Strabag JV is expected to procure two 8.25m–8.45m diameter TBMs to excavate the 7km long Euston to Old Oak Common tunnels and a further four TBMs of 9.5m–9.7m diameter for excavation of the 14km long Northolt Tunnels.

The Eiffage/Kier JV will require two TBMs of 9.5m–9.7m diameter for excavation of the third major tunnel through the Chiltern Hills at 13.4km long and additional machines for the 1.5km long Long Itchington Wood Tunnel and the 2.8km long tunnel on the approach to the new Birmingham International Station.

Indication of the tunnels required on Phase 1
Indication of the tunnels required on Phase 1

In early 2018, firms were appointed to design the main stations of the route.

  • Arup for the London Euston Stations and the Birmingham Interchange Station
  • WSP for the Old Oak Common Station in London and for the Birmingham Curzon Street Station

In February 2019, preferred contractors for the two London stations were announced.

  • The JV of Mace of the UK and Dragados of Spain for the Euston terminus station works
  • A consortium of Balfour Beatty, Vinci of France and French engineer Systra for the Old Oak Common Station development

At Euston station, and under a contract valued at £1.3 billion, the Mace/Dragados will more than double the existing station capacity, building 11 new platforms and large underground SCL works to create links to the London Underground lines that connect passengers to the intercity overground train services at the station. Under a contract of nearly £1 billion at Old Oak Common, the Balfour Beatty/Vinci JV, will build six 450m long platforms in a 1km long underground station box and an over-bridge to provide direct access to London’s new Crossrail Elizabeth Line.

Designs for Euston and Old Oak Common Stations

Many other contractors, engineering firms, geotechnical companies and service providers are engaged both on early enabling works contracts and for developing the baselines and systems required to take the project through its civil construction phase and into the vital and often underestimated stage of installing electrical and mechanical operating systems and taking the system through the commissioning and testing phases.

As the industry watches the fate of HS2, and critically its Phase 1 programme, other major tunnelling projects in the UK are impacted by different concerns now controlled by the new UK Government. While the Woodsmith potash mine development in Yorkshire, the 32km of cable tunnels in London, and the Silvertown highway tunnel under the Thames in London, may not be relying on central government funding, they are nonetheless concerned particularly about the Brexit process. The projects have awarded major construction contracts to European companies or have European companies bidding for major contracts, the projects and their suppliers in UK will be concerned also about the falling value of the UK sterling currency and the affect it will have on the costs and processes of importing machinery, supplies and services from Euro based sources.

All of these worries add to the turbulent political and financial state in which the UK finds itself and this juncture in its long history.

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