Technology Increases Productivity by a Quarter on UK Rail Projects

Did you know that technology is increasingly playing an important role in the rail industry, helping to achieve safety milestones, meet passenger demand and expectations as well as reducing the impact on the environment? For the rail industry, an exciting era of innovation is underway supporting train operating companies and rail asset owners to analyse, monitor and track data collected and captured to enhance safety, reliability and service to customers.

For BAM Nuttall, technology has played an important role in the delivery of two major rail projects from 2017, with the ambition to improve rail capacity in the North West of England. One project for Merseytravel involved preparing the rail infrastructure for a new fleet of Stadler trains. This £18m Merseytravel Depot Construction Contract (DCC) project included upgrading the existing Train Maintenance Depot (TMD) at Kirkdale, with stabling facilities, maintenance sheds, offices and a training simulator.

Running concurrently, the Northern Train Lengthening programme was a £3.9m project for Network Rail to extend all the platforms at five stations between Streethouse (Featherstone) and Knottingley in Yorkshire. The new platforms would accommodate the three car trains used in the new fleet, delivering a 50% increase in capacity. The complex, multidisciplinary projects incorporated rail, civil engineering, mechanical and electrical specialisms.

Safety is a key aspect to any rail project due to the complexity of the structures, the incredible attention-to-detail and meticulous planning needed to successfully deliver works around an operational train line. For BAM Nuttall, these projects were no different, and data is a key link to delivering these two projects safely, efficiently and on time. The team had to think outside the box to manage the projects’ health, safety and quality key performance objectives, and for Construction Project Manager Raymond Castelyn, it wasn’t workable to rely on paper-based processes.

At the beginning of the project, the paper-based document management was a nightmare,” recalls Raymond. “The site was too large to be carrying around big drawings with you – and we had 150 drawings that were being regularly updated. Identifying locations could be a challenge, as the appearance of the site before and after the project was as different as night and day.”

Identifying efficiency gains to improve project delivery

For the team working on the project, manual processes also slowed down the project’s progress. Photos taken of the site had to be downloaded from devices, saved in a folder and then relabelled with their location, to make them searchable. Manual methods of working were also used to identify and report both health & safety and quality issues, through track sheets. “The documents would be printed and then filled out manually, normally when people got back to the office – so it was hard to be sure they were always accurate,” recalls Raymond.

The team was not only relying on manual processes for their operational activity but also for performance tracking, which made it difficult to quickly identify trends and patterns that could precede undesirable outcomes. “With the paper-based processes, we had no traceability, mobility or transparency – and it wasn’t sustainable.” So, Raymond decided to find and adopt a solution that would improve upon traditional techniques for gathering, analysing and reporting the site data.

A connected construction journey begins with a single step

BIM 360, an Autodesk Construction Cloud product, is a unified platform that connects project teams and data in real-time, from design through construction. BAM Nuttall had been using BIM 360 on a selection of projects since 2012 so Raymond and the team decided to implement it into these significant rail projects. They were equipped with five iPads to use on-site and from January 2018 and the project moved to an entirely digital way of working using BIM 360.

From photo tracking of activity on site to producing a 3D model of the project, the technology has supported BAM Nuttall to work in a more connected way, helping the team to navigate the complexities of these projects and ultimately make better decisions. Being able to access drawings and models allowed the team to coordinate better: “We had a 3D model of the 1,040 individual buried services revealed by the ground penetrating survey. If I went on-site and someone asked me, ‘Where’s that water main?’ I could look it up on the iPad and say with complete confidence, ‘It’s two meters from that manhole.’ That was hugely important,” says Raymond.

Accelerating accountability and transparency across the supply chain

The two projects benefitted from improved levels of accountability. Being able to track the cost of each Non Conformance Report (NCR) and identify challenges with any subcontractors or elements supported this. The team generated reports using BIM 360 to send to each subcontractor on a weekly basis and monthly reports were also shared with the client and the wider BAM Nuttall team. This helped improve visibility and communication across all contributors.

On both projects, efficiencies were improved significantly using BIM 360, according to data that the project team collected. On the Merseytravel DCC, the project saw savings of 13.4 hours in a 50-hour week per person when averaged across the team, resulting in a 27% increase in efficiency. The results on the smaller Northern Train Lengthening programme were consistent, with 16.2 hours saved per person per week, equivalent to a 32% increase in efficiency. Team members noted in a survey that the impact on their working day was significant: “Huge time and cost savings can be made on a project by using BIM 360 to manage the site.”

Insights today to be used tomorrow

Using BIM 360 to capture data on site helped the team handover the project to their client, supporting them with better insights on the asset. The platform opened up significant possibilities for data analytics, as due to the rich data export function, the information could be visualised in PowerBI. Raymond asserts: “Having all the data in one place means you can start doing the smart stuff. You can track close calls and issues or pick up problems in particular areas like concrete. Traditionally it would be really complex to pull that information from Excel sheets, but with BIM 360 the data is exported with the click of a button. Data is what it will all be about going forward, and with BIM 360 you get a solid foundation in place.”

The Merseytravel Depot Construction project was the first time that a 3D model had been linked into BIM 360 in the rail division. And, following the success of the project, in 2019, BAM Nuttall have rolled out BIM 360 across most rail projects with similar successes achieved.

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