The £350m Northern Hub project was part of Network Rail’s £1.5bn rail upgrade plan for the North of England. The multi-award-winning project has improved medium-distance connections to, and across, Manchester. It also provided additional capacity for local services in Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds.
Central to the project, the Ordsall Chord was a series of new bridges and viaducts connecting Manchester’s Piccadilly and Victoria stations. Crossing busy roads, the River Irwell, and the UK’s second deepest canal lock, the route presented multiple risks which needed managing.
The new link integrates seamlessly with existing rail routes and interfaces sympathetically with the world’s first passenger terminal – George Stevenson’s Liverpool Road Station. It went on to win 16 industry awards, recognising exemplar project planning, design, and delivery.
The Northern Hub was desperately needed to unlock network capacity around Manchester, but there were many risks associated with the delivery of such a major project. Network Rail’s eight-stage GRIP (Governance for Railway Investment Projects) process minimises and mitigates the risks associated with delivering rail enhancements or renewals.
In 2011 Network Rail asked us to assist with option selection at GRIP stage 3 and then provide continuous support for delivery of the multidisciplinary project.
We helped to develop the construction strategy before going on to assist with the procurement of a contractor to complete the detailed design and deliver the project. In Autumn 2013 we were integrated into The Northern Hub Alliance, along with Network Rail, Amey Sersa (track), Siemens (signalling, power, and telecoms), and Skanska BAM (civils).
Remaining an active part of the Alliance until project closeout in late 2017, D2’s Planners, Project Control professionals, and Document Controllers provided key services including:
Our services were all supported by our in-house digital experts who provided bespoke data management tools, schematics, access planning software, training modules, dashboards.
Reactions to the early proposals were mixed. Key challenges included potential disruption to arterial road and rail routes, and the environmental constraints presented by the River Irwell, and the Manchester, Bolton, and Bury Canal lock. The final option had to successfully manage every risk, put rail users first, and pass through the rigours of the statutory process.
Even before the design and construction team had been formed or selected, we used our in-depth experience of multidisciplinary projects, to provide scenario planning support to assess various options from a construction perspective.
Meticulous planning and sustained consultation with rail passenger and freight service operators, highway managers, residents, and businesses were key success factors. Our team produced and controlled a robust integrated schedule with 3rd party milestones, including Department for Transport funding, Transport, and Works Act Orders (TWAO), interface milestones, materials volumes, and resource profiling.
We led the development of a Construction Report and Schedule in parallel with the Single Option Selection Design. The report detailed resource and land requirements and, on several occasions prompted adjustments to the design and/or construction methodology to provide better efficiency and programme certainty.
Supporting the official Public Inquiry for the TWAO, the report resulted in the project passing unhindered passage through the statutory process.
During GRIP Stage 4 our 4D planning, and construction sequencing expertise, ensured that single option development aligned seamlessly with an efficient phasing and programme of works. This resulted in an optimised possession strategy which realised a cost saving of approximately £6m, whilst also enabling other 3rd party projects to be efficiently delivered.
When planning and negotiating access and rail possessions, we avoided simple blockade requests. Instead, we discussed alternative proposals with train operators during early option selection, developing designs and construction around the needs of passengers and freight.
During this time, we identified potential improvements to access and possession planning. Our digital experts began to develop bespoke applications which visualise possessions in detail, and which enabled us to model impacts (and opportunities) relative to wider rail timetables. They also improved data input and management functions, making our work more efficient. We have, since then, integrated these applications to create Swiftview™, a user-friendly system that satisfies all the Network Rail Access Planning Programme (APP) requirements.
After stakeholders, managing utility diversions was one of the highest-risk areas in terms of cost and programme. Our utilities managers engaged with the various utility providers, and Manchester and Salford City Councils to gain their ‘buy-in’ from the start. This supported programme-based utilities coordination, and efficient consents/approvals procedures.
In some instances, we amended designs to avoid diversions, exploring protection options to save time, effort, and cost. Where diversions were the only option, we encouraged a coordinated approach that avoided multiple visits by different contractors. Our exhaustive management strategy featured trackers, and ‘countdown’ checks to further minimise delays.
Our in-house Document Controllers rolled out the use of Bentley’s ProjectWise™ information management system across all of the Alliance partners and suppliers, providing interactive training for new starters and existing project staff at every level. We agreed on common working methods, efficient document management protocols, and clear lines of communication. We also establishing naming and numbering conventions and metadata criteria, along with regular compliance checks.
All of this helped us with the effortless collation of the health and safety files, for which we devised and managed a document delivery matrix, formatting, approvals, and uploads.
Planning and project controls
D2 Planners and Project Controls specialists developed efficient programmes, and end-to-end reporting cycles that allowed sufficient data validation/review points without overly extending the length of the process. Our regular reviews removed bottlenecks and identified opportunities for automation, which our digital team’s bespoke software solutions realised.
As part of the financial reporting process, we implemented an Earned Value Management System (EVMS). This included the production of a requirements specification; designing and building the system; undertaking administration and maintenance; and delivering user training.
We also spearheaded the development and implementation of a robust integrated change control process. This included creating a standard Alliance change request form, defining triggers for change, creating a Delegated Authority Matrix, and developing a Change Register with KPI Metrics to drive continuous improvement in the process. To ensure approved changes were transacted in the relevant toolsets we designed a feedback loop.
Many of the lessons learned on Northern Hub, including integrating outputs from the change control process with the EVMS, have since been carried forward to other projects.