It's later than you think

26 August 2014

AS the tunnelling community plans to descend upon London for the British Tunnelling Society conference next month, Mayor Boris Johnson has set out a GBP 1.3 trillion (USD 2.2 trillion) development plan that lays down a treasure trove of underground opportunities for the city. The plan outlines the infrastructure developments needed to keep pace with London's growth.

No doubt the talking heads at the September conference will presenting some of the mega projects in Johnson's weaponry.

Not least amongst the plans are three projects already heavily debated: the giant Thames Tunnel, part of the London sewerage upgrades; High Speed Two, linking Birmingham and the north of England with fast rail connections to London and Europe; and Crossrail Two, the next mega metro project planned for the city.

London is a city in growth. The population peaked in 1939 at 8.6 million and is expected to surpass that this year. In Johnson's infrastructure plan, the population of the city is forecast to reach 9.5 million on the low estimate and 13.4 million in the high.

This growth will take its toll on London's infrastructure network, and the situation with public transport will be exacerbated by growth in commuter journeys into the city. The forecasts in the mayor's strategy document show an 80 percent increase in rail trips by 2050.

To cope with the growth the mayor has proposed extensive upgrades to the network. An appendix of projects giving just the salient points run for some 26 pages, and includes 76 projects.

Among the most expensive of those given are the GBP 12.6bn (USD 21.22) upgrade of the Picadilly, the Central and the Bakerloo lines, the GBP 2.6bn (USD 4.37bn) Bakerloo Line extension, the GBP 10bn (USD 16.84bn) underground stations upgrade scheme, the GBP 20bn (USD 33.63bn) Crossrail Two line, the GBP 16bn (USD 26.94bn) High Speed Two line and the GBP 20bn (USD 33.63bn) Crossrail Three line (to connect Waterloo and Euston).

As Bill Grose, formerly a director of infrastructure at Arup, among other commentators, has argued, the phasing of these projects will have a massive influence on cost.

If the projects can be scheduled to commence one after the other, there will less competition between jobs among the contractors and suppliers.

With the impetus the mayor has placed behind this plan to 2050, now is the time to get lobbying.

The campaign for Crossrail (at least in the project's current form) took some15 years to get the bill passed by government. And it will have taken at least 10 years from passing the bill to the first trains running.

Part of the discussion in London at the BTS conference will likely cover what can be done by the industry experts to get these potential projects out of strategy documents, and in to the ground