Waterloo sunrise

28th April 2016

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Elisa Caton

Paul Suff finds out how sustainability is underpinning a project to raise capacity on the Wessex rail lines

Waterloo International rail station cost £120m to construct and opened in November 1994. Thirteen years later it was shut. The Eurostar terminus, recognisable by its lattice roof arches and the winner of several awards, including the Royal Institute of British Architects’ building of the year in 1994, was redundant as trains switched to the modernised St Pancras International.

Although South West Trains introduced a timetabled service from one of the five disused platforms in May 2014, Waterloo International has largely been mothballed since the last Eurostar service departed for Brussels at 18.12 on 13 November 2007. Work has now started on returning the station to use as part of a £365m project to raise capacity on the Wessex line into London Waterloo, Britain’s busiest train station.

Sustainability is at the heart of the scheme, which, as well as reopening the former international terminus, includes extending platforms to take longer trains, improving station access, strengthening bridges and upgrading signalling. Work on remodelling the former Waterloo International started in December 2015 and most of the planned works are due to be delivered by 2019.

Five-strong alliance

AECOM associate and IEMA Fellow John Skinner is the lead on the project for planning, environment, consents, stakeholder engagement and sustainability. He says the Wessex capacity improvement programme differs from many major infrastructure projects because sustainability has been a key consideration from the beginning. ‘Network Rail appreciated that sustainability was critical from the start of the project and that is something we hadn’t really seen before,’ he says. ‘If sustainability is considered only afterwards, feasible opportunities to effect change and realise maximum benefits get lost.’

AECOM is one of five companies working on the project as part of the Wessex Capacity Alliance (WCA). The other members are Network Rail, Colas Rail, Mott MacDonald and Skanska. Skinner says questions about sustainable development were included in the pre-qualification questionnaires used by Network Rail to shortlist suppliers to invite to tender for the WCA.

The section on sustainable development in the Wessex Route Plan, published by Network Rail in September 2012, lists the key areas for improvement. They include: safety and wellbeing; energy and resource; climate change adaptation; environmental protection; communities; and accessibility and inclusivity.

The alliance began working in 2014 after winning the four-year contract for design and construction. Skinner describes the WCA as a ‘true multidisciplinary team’.

The sustainability team of six started its work by getting buy-in for its approach from the WCA management team. The team hosted a conference on sustainability, which brought together management and discipline leaders from design, architecture, construction, procurement and health, safety, environment and assurance. Skinner chaired the session and papers were presented by the sustainability lead at Network Rail and the project’s CEEQUAL verifier and assessors, more of which later. Outputs from the day included:

  • agreement on what sustainability meant for WCA;
  • review of case studies and lessons learned from previous comparable projects;
  • recognition of what is achievable, including a target of a CEEQUAL ‘excellent’ rating; and
  • agreement on the WCA sustainability strategy, team structure and resourcing.

Skinner says the strategy will ensure that all aspects of sustainability – social, economic and environmental – are considered at each stage of the project, from design and procurement to construction and handover: ‘It covers the strategic aims of the whole project and there will be specific strategies developed along the way for each element.’

The sustainability framework for the project shows where the three pillars interact:

  • socio-environmental – noise and vibration, line side management and climate change adaptation;
  • enviro-economic – resource efficiency, renewable energy, sustainability procurement; and
  • socio-economic – local employment/skills, passenger disruption and diversity.

Skinner reports that lifecycle cost analysis (LCA) is fundamental to the approach being taken to embed sustainability throughout the project. Moreover, Network Rail has endorsed and facilitated lifecycle analysis. The route plan from the rail network operator stresses the importance of lifecycle costing, noting that, as equipment is replaced and buildings refurbished, opportunities will emerge to improve the whole-lifecycle sustainability of those projects.

Skinner believes this will encourage designers to think about the future, to devise innovative solutions and to consider, for example, equipment with longer maintenance periods. ‘Whole-life costing is critical to realise the benefits of initiatives and to justify any additional investment. That approach was not really available to designers on previous projects,’ he says.

On track?

Targets and ‘stretch’ goals have been set in 21 ‘key areas’, from carbon reduction to whole-life cost. The WCA wants to reduce embodied carbon in core materials by 15% but the ‘stretch’ target raises this ambition to 30%. The WCA will report annually on progress, while key performance indicators are fed back internally every four weeks.

To ensure the project achieves its objective of world-class sustainability performance it is using CEEQUAL, the evidence-based sustainability assessment scheme for the construction industry. The WCA is aiming for a CEEQUAL ‘excellent’ rating and Skinner says the alliance has agreed a ‘four-award strategy’ with CEEQUAL organisers for its programme of works. He says applying CEEQUAL assessment proves the WCA’s commitment to sustainability and can exercise considerable influence on the project. ‘CEEQUAL only provides the foundation though,’ Skinner says. ‘We’re also using the AECOM sustainability strategy analysis tool [SSAT] to support our management approach.’

SSAT is an Excel-based program and provides a clear management process linked to the CEEQUAL themes. It enables the WCA to predict performance across sustainability topics and is flexible enough to add additional ones to ensure policy compliance and technical focus. ‘We have added future proofing and economics of station businesses,’ Skinner says.

The tool contains a database of sustainability initiatives used by AECOM on other projects. ‘Our strategy is to hold a series of sustainability workshops, with the discipline leads in the alliance. These include a sustainability briefing followed by a session focusing on the identifying and evaluating sustainability initiatives to add to our SSAT database,’ says Skinner. ‘Some initiatives are basic good practice and cost nothing, others require design changes, and some need investment to see longer-term payback. The key is to pick those that deliver the most, but if you select too many it becomes difficult to manage and track them.’

Initiatives are recorded in a spreadsheet under 17 headings. These include cost and return, and the potential effect on the CEEQUAL score. Each initiative has an ‘owner’ and progress is reviewed quarterly when initiatives can be refined, put on hold or new ones added. As part of the management process, sustainability champions have been recruited from within the team. These volunteers help drive the process of tracking and implementing initiatives as well as ensuring sustainability is on the agenda of design team meetings.

To help embed sustainability more generally, staff induction includes environmental and sustainability content, while all supervisors and managers attend a one-day site environmental awareness training scheme. On a day-to-day basis, morning briefings and ‘toolbox’ talks include environmental updates on issues including noise and dust.

Moving sustainability forward

The relatively short life of Waterloo International suggests that sustainability and long-term planning were not at the forefront of infrastructure decision-making in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Even though that is changing and is being taken to new heights on the Wessex capacity improvement programme, Skinner concedes that sustainability is still not part of mainstream thinking on many infrastructure projects and is a challenge that the profession must overcome.

‘Sustainability needs to be represented at the highest level on a project to promote understanding and avoid it being marginalised, but getting that engagement isn’t always easy,’ he says. ‘A busy management team can make it difficult to get buy in and sign-off.’ He says tight delivery schedules can make it hard to incorporate sustainability initiatives, while engineering standards can reduce the opportunities for innovation. Skinner says that, by placing the emphasis on resource efficient design, cost savings and improved performance, he can get more traction with design colleagues than he might by just talking about sustainability.

Sustainability on major infrastructure schemes has to be forward-thinking, says Skinner: ‘Our engineers are designing for 120 years but within five years technological innovation may have transformed the way we view work, travel and recreation. Working from home is already common and when people do have to travel they expect access to wifi and the internet so that they can use their time effectively.’

He also advocates more widespread knowledge sharing, so the lessons learned on a project help the next one and drive innovation. ‘We need to be looking across the world to bring into our projects thinking from the emerging smart cities – places where digital infrastructure is established (pp22–25)– and the latest predictions from the technological innovators,’ he believes. ‘Failure to do so will waste millions of pounds, lead to lost opportunities and post-investment infrastructure that is not fit for purpose.’

Key lessons from first 12 months at WCA

  • Delivering sustainability requires practitioners to work with the whole team to cover design, architecture, town planning and consents, procurement and construction.
  • Involve the stakeholder engagement team: community engagement and communication seldom cost much but can be critical to the success of the project as well as understanding how the local environment, businesses and communities work and interact with the railway.
  • Engage with the train operating company to understand its ideas for innovation and plans for future operations.
  • Take into account whole-life costing to correctly account for the benefits and savings associated with sustainability initiatives.
  • Work with the procurement team to drive efficiencies through the supply chain.
  • To enhance engagement, avoid overuse of the word sustainability. Instead, talk about resource efficiency, cost savings and future proofing.

Waterloo: the UK’s busiest station

The railway from London Waterloo is the UK’s busiest, carrying more than half a million passengers a day. In the past 20 years, passenger numbers have more than doubled and are forecast to increase by a further 40% by 2043. To meet demand and prepare for the continued growth, more than £800m is being invested by 2019 to increase capacity, and improve performance and reliability across the Wessex route.

The station and infrastructure improvements include:

  • Converting and reopening platforms 20–24 at the former Waterloo International terminal for domestic train services, with outlying track and signalling improvements to allow the running of up to 20 trains an hour in the busiest peak hour on the Windsor lines.
  • Lengthening and modifying platforms 1–4 at Waterloo and other modifications to enable ten-carriage trains on the suburban network.
  • Improving passenger access and circulation at Waterloo, Surbiton and Vauxhall stations.
  • Improving the rail infrastructure, including the track, signalling, communications and power.
  • Developing designs for a grade-separated junction at Woking to increase main line capacity to up to 28 trains an hour at peak periods.


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