Transport Infrastructure – The importance of contingency planning

If there’s one thing we’ve learned over many years and countless complex transport infrastructure projects, it’s that contingency planning is vital.
People routinely underestimate the importance of having a contingency if they’ve performed similar tasks in the past. With new challenges and innovative projects, the risks are multiplied.

Plans with tight programme schedules, a specific required completion time and are tightly packed with sequential activities are often even more of a risk. The frequency with which overrunning transport infrastructure works seem to cause disruption, suggests that over-tight scheduling and optimism bias frequently happen.

When transport links intersect, as with the Leigh Road Bridge on Slough Trading Estate, you simply can’t afford to have an overrun or a change to schedules. In this case we would have stopped the Great Western main line services if the overnight installation of a 96m road bridge structure had been delayed.

So how do you minimise the chances of overruns and disruption:

  • Have an early engagement between customers, stakeholders, consultants and contractors and key suppliers. One where the contractor can apply creative solutions to minimise programme timings, but also forward plan the build and contingencies into the schedule to hit a time critical end date. Sometimes, the physical reality of installing a structure doesn’t quite match what you are able to model and everybody needs to be able to respond quickly and efficiently in an open collaborative solution creating culture.
  • Have a sound review process for the project at every stage and continuous connections. We are less prone to issues building up when everybody is engaged in the task delivery.
  • BIM has proved a very effective new tool for collaborative and shared working. Allowing everyone involved in the build from project inception through to construction and handover to efficiently plan, design, construct and manage the build.

There were some technical issues with the installation of the ambitious Leigh Road Bridge. Because realistic contingency plans had been developed the team could respond swiftly. The bridge was installed on schedule and the track handed back without disrupting services.

A technically innovative project will, by definition, have details and challenges that are new. You won’t have solved all the problems before and can’t know, with certainty, how long they will take. So creating the right collaborative culture is essential.

But with the right partnerships and planning you can still afford to think big, be ambitious – and deliver on time.