PAUL STEPHEN speaks to Bechtel’s Bill Tucker and some of the global engineering and construction firm’s team delivering the central section of the Elizabeth Line
Crossrail’s Central Section Delivery Director goes under the spotlight.
Bechtel is a key player on the Crossrail project and responsible for delivering 26 miles of tunnels and eight of the ten new stations that comprise the central section of the Elizabeth line. Appointed as Crossrail Ltd’s appointed project delivery partner (PDP) in 2009 (with its nominated sub-consultants SYSTRA and Halcrow), Bechtel’s Bill Tucker (Central Section Delivery Director), is part of the integrated management team (headed up by Crossrail Ltd Programme Director Simon Wright). Tucker leads more than 600 people – nearly a quarter of them from Bechtel, many of whom are in senior programme management positions on the project. Bechtel is also responsible for the implementation of Crossrail Ltd’s delivery strategy, making sure there is equal focus from contractors on achieving its vision and upholding its values, such as health and safety, best practice and responsible procurement. Tucker’s team is also the main authority for the long list of contractors working on Europe’s largest construction project.
Tucker tells RAIL: “We sit here today with the Crossrail project 83% complete, and the fact we’re on track for the central section to open in December 2018, is a big success which we are not taking for granted. There were always going to be huge challenges on a project that’s as big and complex as building beneath central London. We are managing an enormous number of design and construction contracts and our job is to coordinate all of them and make sure they all work in unison for one single programme. There have been more than 150 separate contracts to manage from the first stages of demolition through to final commissioning, but Crossrail Ltd views the project as one railway, so we’ve had to identify and manage all those interfaces and liaise with industry stakeholders.” Tucker, who has been working at Crossrail from the first day of the delivery partner contract says: “We’ve worked really hard to integrate the team and embody Crossrail’s vision of working as one, while bringing Bechtel’s capabilities and experience”. We try and find the right person for the job, as opposed to saying ‘one company is responsible for this, and another firm is responsible for that”.
Bechtel has been helped by one or two innovative, motivational devices to emerge from the PDP partners’ toolkit. “As a team, we’ve helped Crossrail develop a performance management system that uses leading indicators every six months to check if contractors are making extra effort. It’s a very new concept to the industry. Putting a performance league table in front of a room of directors can have some amazing effects. So I’d say that measuring performance in this way has proved to be very motivational! I wasn’t sure about using it at first, as I was worried it was yet another audit on companies. But I can now say it is a collaborative and forward-thinking way of boosting performance and outputs. It’s also proved useful to the contractors, who have started using the rankings as a sales pitch. We’ve shared this tool with other organisations, such as London Underground and HS2 Ltd, to use for their own projects.”
Turning back to Crossrail, Tucker says that the most pleasing aspect of leading the management team has been successfully resolving problems, rather than trying to
avoid them. Much of the work took place underground, away from the public gaze but he points to the above groundworks at places like Whitechapel. Crossrail’s new station is being built there, above fully operational London Overground and Underground platforms and Tucker highlights it as a good example of successful risk mitigation and liaison with industry stakeholders.
“I could probably list ten things we’ve encountered along the way where you might say ‘this is daunting’ but where you relish the challenge. At Whitechapel, we’ve had to work around passengers and on top of operational railways, mostly at night, in the London Underground and Overground networks. I’m really pleased that we’ve been able to overcome a number of issues, particularly when they’ve involved things we didn’t expect, such as unmapped utilities. Had we been less diligent, things like that could have had an adverse impact on the programme. But we handled them, and now we are close to completing the station structures, which feels spectacular.”
Taking a moment to reflect on the last eight years as part of the integrated programme management team, Tucker says that Bechtel will emerge from the project a stronger company, having shared a wealth of new experience. He says it has been one of the highlights of Bechtel’s seven decades in the UK - not insignificant considering some of the company’s other infrastructure jobs have included High Speed 1, West Coast Route Modernisation and even the Channel Tunnel, while its legacy has been to permanently change how large infrastructure projects are delivered across the industry.
He concludes: “Crossrail is the first client I’ve worked with that puts so much focus on how things are done, as well as what is being done, and I learned a lot from that approach. The strategy includes so many details about limiting disruption to other people, protecting the environment and tackling diversity in the workforce. 40% of Bechtel’s engineers on this job are women. Crossrail has supported a new generation of British women engineers, some of whom are still here, some who have moved on to other UK jobs and some who are now working internationally on other Bechtel mega projects.”
Paul Gibbs, Bechtel Infrastructure’s UK Managing Director and a former Project Manager at Bond Street station, adds: “At Bechtel we engineer, construct, project manage and finance big infrastructure around the world and I’ve been fortunate to work on a number of incredible projects. The Crossrail project is special to us and to me; I was PM at Bond Street station from 2010 to 2012 and to come back now and see the progress made is a real privilege.”
Looking at how lessons and skills learned have been exported from the Crossrail project to the benefit of the global rail and engineering community, Tucker adds: “To test this approach away from Crossrail, a subset of Bechtel’s Crossrail team went to Canada to help another project (the Toronto-York Spadina Subway extension), to enable that client to leverage some of the things we’ve done for Crossrail. Bechtel has also recently been awarded a project delivery contract for the Sydney Metro, and people involved in the Crossrail project will be going there too; I’m very happy that Crossrail Ltd is supportive of sharing the lessons learned in London. This will only serve to develop the railway industry domestically and internationally. I tell people if you want to build something big, it doesn’t get any better than the Elizabeth Line.”
Paul Gibbs, Managing Director Bechtel Infrastructure UK, and Bill Tucker, Crossrail Central Section Delivery Director, Bechtel.
The steel frame for Whitechapel station ticket hall is being installed above operational platforms for London Overground and Underground. The significant level of risk management and stakeholder engagement required here represents one the Crossrail project delivery partners’ greatest challenges, but also successes, says Bechtel’s Bill Tucker.