Our project – Reading station and the route west

HM The Queen at Reading station opening, Bill Henry is on her right.

Reading’s significance as a rail hub is due to step up in significance as Crossrail and Great Western route electrification increase the train traffic. Bechtel has been at the heart of the job and he explains to Jackie Whitelaw how the work is being delivered.

A few weeks ago Bechtel Principal Vice President and Programme Director Bill Henry met the Queen at the opening of the new Reading station. Now his team is gearing up for a Christmas blockade to construct a new viaduct over the rail tracks that by Easter 2015 will unlock the Reading bottleneck and allow more high speed trains between London and the West.

The Royal opening of Reading station last month was a clear indication of the step up in significance that the station and the town are about to acquire as a hub for travel north, south east and west as billions of pounds of investment in the Great Western Route Modernisation and Crossrail kick in.

"So we challenged our team to get ahead of McNulty and knock 12 months off the job.”

Henry was there to greet the Queen as she arrived at platform 9 and was sat directly on her left in the artistic ‘everyone in orange’ commemorative photograph. “That was quite a moment,” he says. “I never thought that me as a guy from southern California could find himself talking with Her Majesty”.

Actually, it was fair enough, because Henry has been involved with the work at Reading right from the early days of the project in 2009 through Bechtel’s role for Network Rail as delivery partner for its Crossrail and Reading programmes. And the team has cut a whole year off the original schedule for the Reading work with a consequent positive knock on impacts right across the project.

The regeneration of Reading station is the first visible output of the £7.2bn investment by Network Rail to upgrade and modernise the Great Western Route,  including electrification of the line from London to Bristol (including Newbury and Oxford) by 2016 and to Cardiff by 2017.

There is also the addition of the Crossrail extension to Reading that will mean passengers for the first time will be able to travel into and beyond central London without having to change at Paddington.

As the work at Reading nears completion, the team is gearing up for the big electrification push west.  During the Royal visit, Henry explained the new High Output Plant System (HOPS) – a 23 vehicle factory on wheels – that will enable the electrification work without having to close the line to trains. Her Majesty named the engineering train Brunel in recognition of the engineer who built the Great Western main line.

Reading has been a bottleneck since Brunel’s day and the £940M of work on the station and track is unpicking the problem. Trains running east to west have had to cross, at grade, tracks taking freight to and from southern ports to the north, an issue exacerbated by growth in freight traffic from 200t to 800t a day.

The new viaduct ‘flyover’ for high speed east west trains opening early next year will change all that. And Reading station, which has always played a part as a transfer hub will blossom properly, with its new building now set up in looks and capacity to handle the role.

“We (Bechtel) first got involved in the Reading work in 2009,” Henry says, “and we had it baselined and locked down in terms of programme by 2010.  But we knew the McNulty report (Sir Roy McNulty’s value for money study published in 2011) was imminent and would be requiring more collaboration with stakeholders and more efficient delivery. So we challenged our team to get ahead of McNulty and knock 12 months off the job.”

That team included everyone involved in the Reading work from Network Rail, to local utilities and council, to the train operators. “We used the BS1100 collaborative procedure which put heavy emphasis on our communications group to really start communicating with the stakeholders,” Henry says.

A critical development was embedding First Great Western staff in the delivery team. “They understood the objectives and they helped us achieve what we needed to do,” Henry says. “They helped us get the access we needed for key moves and blockades.”

These have involved transferring the Reading signal control to Didcot over Christmas and New Year in 2010/11. This was followed by a major blockade on the Great Western line in April 2013, which at the time represented the biggest single commissioning ever undertaken by Network Rail.  “By then we were 60 days ahead of the original schedule,” Henry recalls.

The year saved on the project has been found through working collaboratively and driving the project forward in 90 day stages, speeding up the programme in increments.

“That’s what we are good at,” Henry says. “We are great at taking complex projects, breaking them down, understanding the risk  and then working the stages to create better efficiency and delivery. We call it DCOM – Direction, Competency, Operation and Motivation; and 90 day delivery stages are crucial. If you think of things in quarterly chunks the issues are easier to understand and progress can be closely tracked.”

Determination to increase efficiency has added benefits – in terms of cash and carbon savings, Henry explains. “On the viaduct we have reduced the steel and concrete needed, leading to significant savings on the design and construction along with reducing the carbon footprint by around 15,000t. And by effective use of  recycling and reuse policies throughout the programme, we have been able to divert 95% of our waste from landfill – that’s 300t.

“That’s all good, but what I am most pleased with on this job is the people – the rail companies, local businesses, Department for Transport, Office of Rail Regulation, Network Rail, we have all come together to bring this about.”




If you would like to contact Jackie Whitelaw about this, or any other story, please email jackie.whitelaw@infrastructure-intelligence.com.