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Megaproject best practice

Learning from a megaproject best practice: UK’s Crossrail leaves a lasting legacy 

Those seeking best practices in megaproject delivery would be well advised to study the progress of the UK’s Crossrail initiative. The mammoth metro and rail project, which will run 118 kilometers across the heart of London, is widely-recognized as being not only a triumph of technical skill in engineering and construction, but also a paragon of leadership and management that offers rich lessons for other megaproject leaders.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Andrew Wolstenholme OBE, the Chief Executive Officer at Crossrail Ltd, to hear how this megaproject is creating a blueprint for future project delivery in the city.

The railway that will transform the region

Many industry observers believe that the UK’s Crossrail program represents the most significant feat of engineering ever undertaken in the UK. And rightfully so. The new transport line will deliver 37 new connections stretching from Maidenhead in the west of London to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the East. In its wake, more than42 kilometers (km) of bored tunnels will be constructed alongside and underneath the existing underground lines, sewers, utility tunnels and building foundations, and more than 10 kilometers will be manually excavated, often at a depth of up to 40 meters under London’s already busy streets.


And while all of this clearly ranks Crossrail as a noteworthy megaproject, it is the line’s transformative value that really makes the project stand out as a global best practice. According to Mr. Wolstenholme, the project serves as a strong example of how public sector investment can stimulate growth and improve the quality of life for citizens. “Simply put, Crossrail will keep London moving,” Mr. Wolstenholme noted. “It will provide a better transport service for generations to come, it will deliver economic dividends right across its life-cycle, and it creates both jobs and national capability in a global growth sector.”

Laying the groundwork for future development

Crossrail will not only form a vital link between Heathrow Airport and the business district at Canary Wharf, it will also bring some 1.5 million people within 45 minutes of London’s core. According to Mr. Wolstenholme, this has spurred additional growth potential along the outlying route which will lead to increased ridership for the line and higher tax revenues for the local authorities.


Mr. Wolstenholme also noted the enabling effect that the project will have on future infrastructure development in and around the city. High Speed 2 (HS2) – a project to extend the UK’s high speed train line up the English Midlands – will link with Crossrail at a West London interchange and will be one of its two main London connections.

Building consensus and support for megaproject investment

Many would suggest that Crossrail’s success comes down to the unifying support that the program has received from government, businesses and citizens. “This is a rather unique project in that it transcends political parties, communities and business, largely because it is seen by the vast majority of Londoners as a benefit to London and the Southeast and is therefore a proposition that everyone can get behind. This has allowed us to focus more of our attention on getting the job done,” pointed out Mr. Wolstenholme.


This support is evident across the project, but may be most prominent in the way that Crossrail is being funded. The project has two joint sponsors in Transport for London (which reports to the Mayor of London) and the Department of Transport. But funds have also been contributed by other key stakeholders such as The Corporation of London (representing the City), BAA (the owners of Heathrow Airport), the developers of Canary Wharf, and the wider London business sector, through a supplemental business rate levy.


“Ultimately, our funding model has really brought together government, the business community, organizations and the citizens of London who are all putting their hands into their pockets to fund this transformative piece of infrastructure,” added Mr. Wolstenholme. “We’ve also had cash contributions from a residential and commercial developer along the route who will benefit from the development of a new station.” 50

Solving the capacity and capability challenge

Mr. Wolstenholme points to a raft of major benefits that the investment into Crossrail will bring. “Using conservative cost-benefit models, the government may well see some GBP42 billion of economic return for their GBP14 billion investment,” he noted. “Moreover, some 14,000 jobs will also be created during the 6 year project construction phase which, in turn, will build the UK’s capacity and experience in executing megaprojects.”


Similar to most other megaprojects around the world, the Crossrail team quickly recognized that securing the right quantity of qualified professionals would be a key challenge in delivering this project. Once again, Crossrail has come up with an innovative solution. “Early on in the project planning phase, we realized that we would not be able to secure the 3,000 to 5,000 skilled construction workers that we would need to safely build these tunnels, so we set up Europe’s first Tunneling and Underground Construction Academy to train employees and 400 new apprentices in a wide range of specialist skills,” noted Mr. Wolstenholme. “But what we have done is essentially trained a generation of tunneling and underground construction workers whose skills and experience will be invaluable to any one of the other megaprojects planned for the city, such as the Thames Tideway Tunnel, HS2 or even the upcoming National Grid and EDF electricity cable tunnels that will all roll out over the next decade.”

Delivering strategies for success

Mr. Wolstenholme credits a number of key strategies for the project’s success to date. First and foremost, he notes, is building up a strong business case that unpacks the risks that face the project, not only in design and construction, but also well into delivery and operation. “It’s really about understanding the full life-cycle of the asset and how the value unwinds over time,” added Mr. Wolstenholme. “For example, throughout the design and construction phases, we have worked closely with the rail operator to help us understand how we can leverage smart technologies and digital modeling to help increase the value of the asset through the full life-cycle.”


It is also important to engage project leaders who can properly balance the technical capability with the business and commercial skills required to lead such a complex and high-profile initiative. “The people skills are important yet often overlooked,” added Mr. Wolstenholme. “Those leaders that can align their people skills with their technical knowledge are more likely to ask the people on their team the right questions and make prudent and educated decisions regarding risk.”

Leaving a positive legacy in London and around the world

Crossrail certainly stands as a valuable source of best practices for other megaprojects around the world, an honor that is not lost on Mr. Wolstenholme. “We’re essentially leaving a legacy not just for London but also for the wider industry,” he added. “Yes, we are leaving behind a world-class railway that is transforming London and its surroundings, but we are also developing a skill set that will help future infrastructure owners better manage the life-cycle of the delivery phase. I’m personally very proud to be part of that legacy and our vision of ‘moving London forward’.”


By James Stewart, KPMG in the UK

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INSIGHT: Megaprojects

INSIGHT: Megaprojects
For this edition of Insight magazine, we sat down with some industry leaders in the sector - including developers, project owners and advisors - to create an informative and practical view on megaproject delivery.

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