Station referbishment: identifying and solving challenges

Published in Railway Strategies.

Over £1 billion was invested into station refurbishment in the UK during the 1990s, which in reflection on may not have achieved everything it set out to do, but much has been learnt by the industry from those experiences and is now being put into practice in the current station regeneration programme.

In order for a station refurbishment to be delivered successfully it is an urgent priority that the client has a clear and informed understanding of what the final

output of the project will be before works commence. Further down the line any

changes to the scope of the refurbishment during the project will generally only drive costs up, so that vision of the final output needs to be shared fully with the team at the start.

A realistic budget to work within needs to be ascertained from the off. I have been called in to help projects, not just rail, where – for whatever reason – a realistic budget was not set at the start. Invariably what you’re faced with is a project that has lost its main focus and had its attention diverted away from what the project originally wanted to achieve and there is a divide with the teams. One camp thinking exclusively of the project’s budget, and the other concerned with the vision of the project’s final output. For example: sponsors often act as the internal client, and they will be working toward the clear vision for the finished project, while the project management team charged with the responsibility of delivering the refurbishment might be too preoccupied with delivery and lose sight of the need to work within budget. In reality there needs to be a focus on both the budget and the final vision, otherwise the project risks slipping into free-fall. Communication is key from the opening, as regular communication between parties helps identify and solve problems before they have time to grow.

Knowing your asset inside out is also a must. Underground station refurbishment tends to be more expensive than overground work. This is mainly due to its location and restricted access. When working on underground stations you may also be dealing with structures of considerable age. The condition of which can be revealed by specialist surveys, a worthwhile, but costly process. Even so, if you’re ripping out and replacing the entire electrical system on an underground station you may not need complex surveys.

No matter how meticulous the planning, unforeseen problems still surface with

underground station work. Particularly where tunnelling is concerned, which willalways have the potential to throw up difficulties. Major historic problems such as the artesian well struck by Brunel on the Severn Tunnel and new

tunnelling methods such as the Heathrow incident bring home the risks involved. A key factor in dealing with these scenarios is by having a robust risk management at the heart of your approach, which is another subject in itself.

In the past, stations were built to last the test of time. This isn’t necessarily required today given the pace of engineering and product development. Overstating the life expectancy of your asset is a common mistake, as it will be guaranteed to drive your budget through the roof. We continue to be amazed by the rapid progress made in all areas of technology. Therefore it is financially beneficial to both your client and the completed station’s passengers to implement a flexible station design that can allow for further refurbishment to the asset whenever new and improved techniques might become available.

Of course, it is important to examine each element of the design structure separately. The telecommunication of a station will probably not be required to last as long as the actual structure of the station itself. The mobile world is racing ahead with new technology and at the current rate cable management systems will be reducing hugely as we embrace wireless technology. Smart clients avoid a single standard design life and reap the benefit of avoiding excessive costs driven by unnecessarily high design life.

The key day-to-day challenge is to keep a station operational for both operators and the public while works continue. St Pancreas is a fine working example of a good flexible station design. The neighbouring station, King’s Cross, has a mobile crash deck covering the roof to allow the stations to be used by the public while refurbishment continues overhead.

Often it is the open environment of the station location that drives cost up, but regardless of how you go about controlling your spend, it’s crucial to take risk

analysis on the investment, and to repeat this risk analysis on a quarterly basis. There are different methods to view and control investment. Tony Fletcher, project director of Railtrack during our last station regeneration programme, introduced the poundsin-the-ground process that identifies how much of each pound investment actually goes into production. If for example 75p of every £1 investment is going into the project, perhaps there’s room within your spend to manoeuvre this up to 80p?

Reviewing spend will not necessarily stop a problem, but it will put the focus upon it and provide the best opportunity to solve it by refining the approach and tightening control over it. Like any procedure, there will be no benefit from it if you only pay it lip service. You can’t allow any industry procedure to cause you to become complacent in achieving your objectives. Behind all projects are the teams of client, project/programme management, designers and contractors who all have to work with one vision and one purpose. If the blend is wrong then it is the project that pays the price and suffers the most.

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