Here’s What Collaboration on Rail Infrastructure Projects Looks Like

“Complex rail infrastructure projects are never delivered under perfect conditions. Details of the design may be inaccurate, data about the asset and its condition may be incomplete, work may be more complex than envisaged, and parts of the programme will overrun.

Any of these factors can lead to finger pointing and excuses for why schedules won’t be met. In a collaborative partnership everyone pulls together to identify what each of us can do to get things back on track.

The test of collaboration comes when there are problems to be overcome and work has to be delivered against a tight (and possibly slipping) schedule.
Changing behaviour is always hard. It’s harder still when multiple organisations are involved.

One Team Wessex – Leading by Example
One Team Wessex is a collaborative joint venture between Network Rail, Osborne and Arcadis. It is establishing itself as an exemplar for how collaborative working can deliver better outcomes on rail infrastructure projects.

The recent Reading 10 Car Programme had enough challenges to test any collaboration to the limit. Over a 13 month programme, platform extensions were made to nine stations on the Reading to London Waterloo route to accommodate 10 car trains. The programme involved new signals, power upgrades and changes to level crossings at several stations. Ascot and Virginia Water stations also needed AfA works to improve platform access.  The complexity of the project, and very short timescales for delivering the scheme before the ORR regulated milestone, made collaborative working essential. The partnership emerged from the project not just intact, but stronger than ever. Characteristics of the project delivery help illustrate what effective collaborative working looks like.

Recognise the Risks to Collaboration
The forces and instincts that pull us back to old attitudes, mutual suspicion and self-protection are powerful. The first step towards sustainable collaboration is to recognise this and to be prepared for the challenge. Be alert to events that can threaten collaborative working and be clear about how leaders within the organisations will keep everyone focused and on track.

From the start we set out to build a team that was willing to support the project ahead of themselves. We agreed to call out non-collaborative behaviour and escalate it where necessary.
Early on, most of the team took a full day out to work on collaboration. The workshop revealed so much about every person: what motivates them, how they think, how they react, what makes them happy and what makes them unhappy. It was a good start to get collaboration on people’s minds.

Dealing With Problems
During a difficult period, some of our sites were stopped. We pulled together as a team and reacted in a positive and productive way, challenging any adversarial behaviour that emerged. It would have been easy to blame one another and remain stood down for a long time. But we passed that test and it made us stronger as a unified team.
There was a very challenging programme of signalling commissionings. The first was practically lost before we had even started. The team refused to accept slippage. There were many issues with the scheme design and we found solutions as a team. We shared the workload and trusted each other. When someone was struggling we helped. We succeeded as a team.

Challenging Conversations
There were, of course, some challenging conversations. Duck these and you spell the end of true collaboration. We were not prepared to accept that. The One Team Wessex brand was forged during the difficult times and stayed true to its name. Together we delivered all the required works within the 13-month schedule.

People remember amazing teams, not projects. And amazing teams form when collaborative working is the norm: “it’s just how we do things here”.  For us collaboration is the way we aim to work together as a unified team to overcome challenges with open, honest communication. This is surely the way to deliver the outcomes our rail network needs.”

Mike Todd is the Lead Business Development Manager for Infrastructure at Osborne.