Career story: Raja Narwari on designing Birmingham New Street

Successful design of the new Birmingham New Street Station which opens 20 September has called on the world wide resources of Atkins including the team at the Atkins Global Design Centre in Bangalore, India. Raja Narwari, its practice manager for rail solutions explains how the team responded.

Raja Narwari, Atkins

What was your role and how did you get involved?

I was employed by Network Rail as a Project Engineer for the Birmingham New Street Project. The project team from Atkins, Mace and Network Rail were co-located at the Atkins office – known as AXIS - in Birmingham. On my first day at the office I saw posters of a wide range of signature projects that Atkins have successfully delivered around the world. It took my breath away. I wanted to be a part of an organisation, which I believe is greatly contributing to making the world a better place to live. I met and interacted with many extremely motivated and talented teams of architects, engineers and project managers who are recognised worldwide and have undoubtedly made this project a success. It was during this time I heard about Atkins Global Design Centre and the contribution it was making to the project.

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I joined Atkins UK in January 2013 and visited GDC for the first time in February 2013. I was immediately impressed by the enthusiasm and hard work showcased by the team at the GDC. I felt my experience could add another dimension to the team’s capabilities and  further strengthen the skill set of the GDC team. I moved to Bangalore to be part of the team who were delivering a major chunk of engineering and architectural work for the Birmingham New Street project in August 2013 and brought with me years of experience including the site knowledge I gained by being part of the project Engineering team in the UK. I have since worked as the Technical Authority and Engineering Group manager leading multidisciplinary team of architects, structural engineer's, MEP and engineering technicians for this project.

What were the main activities for the GDC?

GDC has been a part of the project from the early stages reviewing the existing record drawings, building the finite element 3D models and delivering complex design solutions. GDC has assisted in delivering key multidisciplinary design packages including the Navigation Street Foot Bridge Assessment, North East Corner Ramp Extension, new Lower Mezzanine Level, removal of East Service Spine and Northwest Corner Entrance. The team of architects, structural engineers & MEP engineers have worked on the project to provide design solutions for complex and technically challenging packages like the storm water attenuation tank, concourse level retail changes, train operating company accommodation, alterations to Ladywood House, the CAT II check of South Façade Assessment and Grand Central tenant lift. The GDC team was ramped up at the start of the Phase II works and the team has been instrumental in delivering large volumes of designs for implementation by the various contractors working on site.

With program being the key focus, a dedicated team of architects, engineers and technicians worked relentlessly ensuring that high quality designs were delivered. The key for successful delivery from the GDC was the engagement with the client and contractors. Design team leads interacted with the client representatives, project managers from MACE and various suppliers located in the UK and other parts of the world. This allowed the design teams to fully coordinate the designs and give a thorough consideration of buildability such that the construction sequence requirements could be integrated into the designs wherever possible, thus driving technical excellence  in delivering solutions.

How did you cope with the fluctuating requirements as the project developed?

The key to successful delivery of any project is understanding the client’s expectations and adhering to the promises you make. With the emerging information from site and evolving designs, the only way to achieve successful delivery was through effective communication with Network Rail's project engineering team. We built strong working relationships with multiple stakeholders, understood the requirements and kept quality and programme at the centre of each activity. There have been good and bad days but we worked as a unit, believed in our capabilities and strictly adhered to our design principles.

What were the project highlights for the GDC?

The Birmingham New Street project has successfully garnered attention from all over the world as one of the most challenging pieces of modern day engineering. The prestigious New Civil Engineer (NCE) journal ran a cover story on its extraordinary journey. GDC is immensely proud to be part of this landmark project. The main highlight I would say is the consistently  good client feedback and satisfaction it has given to the design team from being part of the scheme. In the last two years, the GDC multidisciplinary team has been working on various design packages and Employer’s Representative’s Instructions (ERI's). Typically these have included design of new proposals or assessment of existing structures, technical review of Transmittal Reference Numbers (TRN) for comment and validation of manufacturer’s drawings and proposals including responding to Requests for Information (RFI) for critical element construction sequences or additional technical information.

What were the biggest challenges?

Transforming a 50 years plus old complex structure into a world class modern station posed challenges at every stage of the project. Lack of as-built information and the need for intrusive surveys, without affecting the daily use of the station added to the challenge of modifying the structure. The team adopted a forensic approach, going back in time to understand how the station was originally built in 1960's, reading and adopting codes of practice relevant at the time of original design and spending a considerable amount of time in reviewing the record photographs of construction. The time difference of 5.5 hours between India and UK has been both favourable and unfavourable and communication channels defined by using technology such as Lync/Skype assisted in breaking such barriers.

To ensure timely delivery and to avoid any last minute feasibility issues, the team engaged with the project Contractor’s Responsible Engineers (CRE's) in the initial planning stages.  This ensured that the designs were accepted by the client with either none or minimal comments. In addition and to build the relationship with the project team, some of GDC staff spent time in the UK at the project office. This has been a great achievement for the GDC enabling Atkins to march towards Gold Status with Network Rail. The GDC is delighted to be a part of this great piece of modern day engineering and architecture.




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