High-level project remits can be brief, pithy, straight to the point. In fact, that’s what you would expect. That’s what you would hope for. A clear direction, no ambiguities, no doubts, no wiggle room.

So, how’s this for a succinct high level remit? One that consists of just two words. “Five carriages,” says Boris. Yup, that’s it. A £330 million project defined in just two words. What about timescales? Any word on how fast these ‘five carriages’ need to be in service? Twelve months! Although the high-level remit has doubled in length, it’s still remarkably brief.

A bit more detail

So what is this all referring to… and who’s Boris anyway? It refers to LOCIP – there’s a clue in this acronym – London Overground Capacity Improvement Programme. It’s that part of the rail network in and around the capital that’s been for years a Cinderella railway. Well, it was until a few years ago when the running was taken over by London Overground.

Before that, it had suffered from years of stagnation and unsympathetic franchising arrangements. The service over the North London Line and the East London line had been awful on a good day. Perhaps memories fade, but there were stories of dingy stations and trains that didn’t run. It was all pretty dire.

A shame really, because there was always potential. These were the cross-town routes avoiding the city centre.

With the arrival of London Overground there was considerable investment. Stations became attractive, and trains ran – and ran on time – with new rolling stock. Passengers returned – again and again. In fact, the London Overground system has become a victim of its own success. Trains are full, and this is impacting on an impressive performance record because dwell times at stations are being extended.

This is why Boris – that’s Mayor-of-London Boris for anyone from out of town – made the high level decree that the current four car trains shall be five cars. And that these extended trains shall be running on the East London line by the end of 2014, and on the rest of the London Overground system by the end of 2015.

Getting started

Once the echoes from the two (or four) word remit had subsided – and that didn’t take very long – what was the next move? The London Overground team picked up the challenge, worked up an initial scheme to GRIP 2 (feasibility) to get preliminary budget authority.

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They then went out to the market to source a technical adviser to work with them on an accelerated development plan and to support them through delivery of the scheme. (An ‘accelerated development plan’ is a euphemism well known within the railway industry. It means doing something quicker than what appears, at first sight, to be possible.)

This is where CH2M Hill came on-board. In the tendering process, and drawing on previous experience with accelerated programmes in the London area, the company emphasised its collaborative approach to complex projects – it sees collaboration as a way of doing business. “It’s how we get successful outcomes” observed Sue Kershaw, Director Rail, Europe. “If you’re operating in silos, there are too many opportunities for divergence.”

“What we put to the client was that CH2M Hill gives a programme management capability and this was certainly needed to support the whole development process. What had to be done was known, but work had to be carried out in parallel rather than in sequence.”

So, what was involved?

Well, those longer trains would cause issues, both when they were running around and also when they went off to bed at night. They have to be stored when they’re not in service, so sidings have to be longer and they have to be maintained in depots that are long enough to take them.

Finding stabling sidings in London is no easy task. There’s not a great deal of spare land in the capital and certainly not the shape needed for extra rolling stock. The Silwood Triangle did appear to be suitable although it was already in use by the infrastructure maintenance provider. And, in common with many sites that have had railway use over the years, there was always the possibility of contaminated soil conditions. Being on the project’s critical path there was real urgency to make progress on the extra sidings at Silwood.

The existing maintenance depots at New Cross Gate and Willesden were geared to four car trains and so extra capacity had to be grafted on at each. With little spare room this meant carrying out work in live depots without overly affecting their existing output. Daily liaison was vital.

Then there are the stations

There are 60 stations on this network. All had to be surveyed to establish whether any work had to be carried out to accommodate longer trains. Lengthening was required at 27. Of the remainder, some were long enough already, some needed platforms to be refurbished and some had to be adapted so that SDO (selective door opening) could be used.

All the work on the platforms affected how passengers flowed in, around and out of the stations. CH2M Hill’s experience in managing passenger flows meant that designs could keep pace with the emerging anticipated traffic flows.

With limited access to sites because of scarce possessions, carrying out surveys was always a challenge. A designer needs a survey to firm up on a scheme, but needs a scheme to specify the parameters of a survey – classic chicken and egg. As project manager David Davey wryly commented: “Just about every type of survey technique was used from the latest cloud technology
to the basic trundle wheel. One of the advantages of London Overground being closer to a vertically integrated organisation is that this gives a certain amount of flexibility around access. They understand what is needed.”

Generally, the procurement strategy for the scheme was for packages of work to be let under design and build arrangements. This was certainly the case for the platform extensions, Silwood sidings and the two depots. But there was a snag when it came to signalling design. It was very difficult to get the market interested because the programme was very tight and the packages themselves weren’t that large.

To guarantee a very aggressive programme delivery, CH2M Hill’s contract was varied so that the signalling designs could be done in-house. This involved not only the detailed designs for the signalling packages but also providing design support for the commissioning weeks and weekends.

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Sidings (and lamp posts) at Silwood

The design and build contract to construct Silwood Sidings, awarded to Cleshar in June 2013, took the scheme from GRIP stage 5 through to 8. Pell Frischmann undertook the multi-disciplinary design for ten roads for stabling the newly extended five-car trains. The project scope included new permanent way, accommodation, acoustic barriers and fencing around the sidings, DC traction power, low-voltage power supplies, lighting (lots of lighting) and CCTV, PA and other communications systems.

The Cleshar project team managed the design and construction of the ten new roads, including a turnout from the mainline and a crossover between the existing mainline tracks. 3.5km of new track was laid. 350 lighting bollards, 320 lamp posts, 105 bulkhead lights and associated cabling and cable route management systems were installed.

The design and installation of the sidings posed significant technical and logistical constraints in the tight brownfield inner city site. The project team worked closely with the LOCIP delivery team and, by the time that the traction power systems were commissioned in May 2014, there were over 180,000 hours of labour recorded in the delivery of this project. The new facility was officially opened at the beginning of September.

TfL’s director of London Overground, Mike Stubbs, was happy with the way things had gone. “To provide 25% more capacity we needed to extend most of the platforms. However, some such as Canada Water could not be economically extended to allow all doors on a five-car train to open. Thus we have introduced Selected Door Opening to ensure at four of our 83 stations only those doors open where there is a platform. In addition, we have also introduced Correct Side Door Enabling.

“There have been some significant engineering challenges, for instance at New Cross Gate we have extended our rolling stock maintenance shed by 20 metres and, to do this, we had to carefully pile around seven different utility services, including electric cables feeding 120,000 homes in South London.

“It is a significant challenge to deliver this capacity enhancement programme which we are delivering in a relatively short time and I’m very proud to lead the excellent team that is delivering it.”

The end of the year is not far off and indications are that the rolling stock, with its new additions of the fifth vehicle in each set, will be ready to run on the East London line as promised. Construction of the extra carriages is proceeding at Bombardier’s Derby works. Systems integration for the first few trains will also be undertaken in the Midlands and thereafter the extra carriages will be delivered to New Cross Gate for integration there.

The first five-car trains will be in service by the end of this year with the fleet complete by the third quarter of 2015. But, looking ahead and anticipating a successful completion for the rest of the project, what of the future in the medium- to-long term? Just as London Overground’s enhanced services attracted all those extra passengers not so long ago, it’s a sure bet that the fifth carriage will start to fill up pretty soon.

So perhaps the next high level remits will be equally as pithy. Six carriages! Eight carriages! But by then, maybe this Boris guy could be somewhere else.