Keeping Tube work on track

Britain’s railways are hardly renowned for their punctuality; Londoners are rarely shy about voicing their displeasure when work on an Underground line disrupts their journey. But recently, beneath the London streets, one company has set about rebuilding that tarnished reputation.

Tube Lines – a consortium co-owned by construction firms Bechtel and Amey –maintains and upgrades stations and track on the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines. It completed its most recent project, adding a seventh carriage to Jubilee line trains, on budget and a week ahead of schedule, in early January 2006.

A cornerstone of the company’s success has been its innovative mobile asset management and geographical information system, which has enabled its 2,000 employees and 2,000 contractors to view real-time project information. The system also helped Tube Lines to win a Quality in Construction award in March 2006 for “achievement through the use of IT”.

By cutting down paper-based processes, the system also enabled Tube Lines’ workers to make the most efficient use of the available maintenance time, which is restricted to just four hours each night.

At the heart of every capital expenditure project is a management and control system from Primavera. Keeping projects on track isn’t just important for keeping commuters happy: the company is fined £200,000 every 4 weeks a station modernisation is late. “We have turned over 22 stations and so far made every date,” says David Lane, manager of planning and scheduling at Tube Lines.

Tube Lines’ database contains all 600 projects that span the first seven and a half years of its contract. Project managers can use the Primavera’s construction-specific enterprise system, P3e/c, to report cost and schedule performance, and drill down into each of the 70,000 unique activities that make up the 600 projects, allowing for macro- and micro-level analysis within the same environment.

"We have turned over 22 stations and so far made every date."

David Lane, manager of planning and scheduling at Tube Lines.

“When we started the contract three years ago, we had three planners in the group,” explains Lane. “We now have 78 planners in the group.” Primavera is a server-based system, so everyone has access to same database. While anyone can see details of any project, users are only able to write to the parts relevant to their role. “We don’t want you to accidentally goof up someone else’s project,” says Lane.

London Underground also uses Primavera tools for its project management and the two systems are closely linked. “We provide all our data to LU every period,” says Lane. “We transfer our entire database to them so they can see how we’re performing. But we take out our detailed costs and provide them summary level cost data.” Other tube contractors do the same, so each can see how the other is progressing and how it might impact work on their part of the network.

Bechtel is the largest user of Primavera in the world, and was attracted to the system because of the volume of data it can handle, its flexibility and its calculation functions, says Lane. “Any scheduling system, if you use it properly, will help you on a single project” he explains. “The benefits of P3e/c overall are the capability to manage the business from the top down through the system – we can check budget figures, scheduling and costs on a daily basis, transfer data from Primavera into our Oracle financial system, use it to manage and control the scope of all the work.”

The consortium is doing three times as much work as before the public-private partnership was established in 2002 and has topped the previous best of laying 700 metres in a weekend, twice laying over 1000m.

And if it keeps London commuters’ moans at bay, it brings a high reward indeed. Even London’s Mayor, Ken Livingstone has been impressed – no small feat, given his unbridled criticism of the other rail contractor working on London’s transport upgrade.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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