Redeveloping London Bridge Station and building the HMS Queen Elizabeth

In a nutshell

Newton and Costain have joined forces to compare Newton’s experience of improving delivery performance on the HMS Queen Elizabeth programme with Costain’s experience of redeveloping London Bridge Station, two of the most complex engineering programmes in their respective fields.

Toby Ashong


Toby Ashong

Posted March 12, 2019

In January 2018, Network Rail opened a new concourse the size of Wembley Stadium at London Bridge Station. Just two months earlier, The Royal Navy launched it’s new £3 billion flagship aircraft carrier, The HMS Queen Elizabeth. Two very different sectors but it may surprise many to learn that there are some striking similarities in how the two programmes were delivered.

London Bridge Station has always been a cornerstone of the capital’s public transport system. Its recent refurbishment was critical in bringing London’s fourth busiest train station into the modern era.

London Bridge Station was first built in 1836, with the last major update carried out in 1978 and by 2011, with around 56 million passengers a year passing through the station, it was deemed no longer fit for purpose.

By unlocking what had become a key bottleneck on the network, a transformational increase in passenger capacity and services could be enabled. To deliver this, Network Rail embarked on an ambitious four-year project to make the station bigger, more functional and more accessible.

The brief was clear: to transform the existing station and make it suitable for one of the UK’s landmark infrastructure interchanges for decades to come; and to do this whilst maintaining a degree of heritage to complement its status as the longest continually-serving railway station in the capital and minimising the disruption to passengers.

The project was carried out as part of the wider £7 billion Government-funded Thameslink Programme, the first phase of which was completed in 2012 included new stations at Farringdon and Blackfriars, a new viaduct at Borough Market, and longer platforms and station improvements across the route.

The brief was clear: to transform the existing station and make it suitable for one of the UK’s landmark infrastructure interchanges for decades to come

Best laid plans

As with any project of this scale, it’s important to get the plans right from the outset and to ensure that the biggest challenges are in the sightline of the programme management leaders from the get-go.

‘In the initial stages of any complex engineering programme, the biggest challenges are generally the same, whether you are dealing with the redesign of a major rail engineering project or the delivery of a large-scale defence programme like the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers’ said Stephan Smith, Director at Newton.

‘Breaking down complexity and solving problems through the planning, design and implementation stages are best carried out before a builder walks on site or a single foundation stone is laid. That usually involves making sure the best and brightest people are involved who are able to focus on finding safer, quicker, more effective and more sustainable ways of getting things done.’

Following a competitive tender process, Costain was awarded the contract for the work. Costain’s previous experience on the Reading Station project was put to immediate good use with an ambitious timeline of work drawn up. In addition to the redevelopment of the station itself, extensive track and signalling work formed a major part of the project, all of which needed significant input from Costain’s complex engineering specialists.

Ian Parker, Sector Director for Rail at Costain said: ‘What we knew from Reading was that success for our client meant keeping their customers on the move: no disruption, no inconvenience – and certainly no hazards – on their route through the station.’

Costain and Balfour Beatty, who had been awarded the track remodelling contract, worked closely with Network Rail as part of the London Bridge Area Partnership. Key to success here was the engagement of partners at an early stage. This allowed the project to benefit from their expertise when carrying out the design and construction work, so it could be delivered with maximum efficiency and offer best value for money.

‘Our role included providing a range of key services from programme management right through to maintenance support’ said Ian.

‘An agreed plan with clear milestones is essential when working in complex operational environments, such as when juggling the three train operators based at London Bridge and their 56 million-strong customer base. The coordination of 17,000 individuals involved in the 27 million working hours it took to deliver such a project was no mean feat but crucial for the success of the project.’

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Planning for success

With engineering programmes of significant scale, a key challenge can often be maintaining attention to detail. This can be a big enough challenge in a non-operational, closed-site environment, but where live operations and public access must be accommodated alongside major works, this creates an incredibly complex environment which takes great skill and experience to manage effectively.

Here, the most important thing is to develop a plan that is sufficiently detailed to maintain progress on the critical path of the project, but also allows flexibility to accommodate unexpected developments. This was certainly the case for the London Bridge project. Great attention to detail was required in order to manage the impact of the refurbishment work on the thousands of passengers who continued to use the station every day.

To minimise the impact, the new railway infrastructure from the south to the north of the station was completed in phases, allowing the station to remain open throughout the project’s delivery and to maintain the bulk of its capacity throughout delivery.

‘A vital ingredient for the success of the London Bridge programme was the ability for parties to manage what we call ‘collaborative engineering’, the essential sharing of information between the parties contracted to deliver and the smooth handover of work between them’ added Ian.

Despite the challenges of the project, the redevelopment work on London Bridge went largely to plan. Work began in the winter of 2012 with preparation work on the station, followed by complete development of the station beginning the following spring.

Within 12 months the first new platform opened and, following a two-year period whereby Charing Cross, Cannon Street services and Cross-London Thameslink trains by-passed London Bridge, by the winter of 2017, the Bermondsey Dive Under was completed, untangling the tracks surrounding London Bridge.

This was followed by the opening of the new station concourse, a new entrance in Tooley Street and the return of Cannon Street trains to London Bridge. Thameslink trains and services between London Bridge and Blackfriars followed in May 2018 and new shops and cafes continued to open in the new station throughout the year.

As of January 2018, a new concourse was catering for the large increase in passenger footfall, all of whom will enjoy better connections from across 15 upgraded platforms. The achievements by the Thameslink Programme’s London Bridge team were marked with a 2017 Greatest Contribution to London Award from the Institution of Civil Engineers, with particular praise from London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

With the realignment of nine through- platforms and six terminating-platforms, capacity in passengers and services have been increased by 50 per cent whilst simultaneously reducing service delays. The long-term vision to expand the Thameslink routes to multiple new destinations to the north and south of London has now also been realised as a result.

One of Newton’s greatest recent successes was its work with the Aircraft Carrier Alliance on the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers

The art of engineering

With extensive experience working on complex UK engineering programmes, Newton believes that the ability to unlock significant potential across operations and supply chains is one that can be applied to any industry.

The company has significant experience in the defence world working with major prime contractors such as BAE Systems, Babcock International and QinetiQ. One of Newton’s greatest recent successes was its work with the Aircraft Carrier Alliance on the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers.

As part of its work to improve performance and efficiency, tackling cost and schedule overruns over a two-year period, the company introduced initiatives which accelerated the programme plan by removing six months of risk to the build schedule, enhancing productivity by over 50 per cent and boosting workforce engagement in the build programme by 167 per cent.

Similarly, its work in the defence domain has seen Newton work across the government/industry boundary for a technical and engineering services supplier to the UK Ministry of Defence, setting up the service provision for the long-term and delivering over £100 million in forecasted net savings.

So, what is the link between these two flagship programmes? ‘Although large complex engineering projects are implemented across a range of strikingly different environments, the recipe for their success is remarkably similar’ Stephan suggests.

‘It might seem obvious, but it’s critical for all stakeholders to have a shared focus, otherwise it’s ultimately impossible to coordinate efficiently. And by understanding the programme enablers –what is needed to complete the job – we show what management and the workforce should do to coordinate tools and resources on- site effectively. Finally, we should never underestimate the importance of finding smarter ways of working by implementing more efficient and tech-savvy methods.’

This article originally featured Rail Professional in March 2019