Rail Asset Interface Developments and the skills required for success - UK Construction Marketing

Rail Asset Interface Developments and the Skills Required for Success

The success of development projects which have a significant interface with rail assets rely on the skills and capability of the teams dealing with these interfaces in collaboration with informed clients. The lessons learnt from previous unsuccessful stakeholder engagements and the impact of collapse or infringement of the railway corridor will be looked at, as well as the multidisciplinary skills required to navigate the rail asset owner’s assurance processes and what ongoing technological advances may mean for rail asset interface developments.

The outcome of the Camden Town Station TWAO planning application was summarised by The Secretary of State inspector’s 2004 report [1] as follows: “The public benefits of the improved station would justify the loss of all the buildings on the site, some of which make a positive contribution to the character and appearance of the Conservation Area. However, in the absence of an acceptable above ground redevelopment scheme the demolition of all the buildings on the site would have a devastating impact on the character and appearance of the Conservation Area.” The lessons learnt from the failure to secure planning permission for the over station development and the TWAO for the proposed station have been well reported [2] and adopted on both the new Camden Town Station Capacity Upgrade consultations (with 97% of respondents backing the proposals [3]) and Bank Station Capacity Upgrade TWAO application which received no objections [4].

The key differences between the two latter schemes in 2017 and 2015 respectively and the 2004 unsuccessful Camden application can be put down to the ability of the project teams to identify the key stakeholders to the projects, map their key requirements against the project’s own objectives and develop mutually acceptable solutions that were both viable from a project perspective and presented risks that were sufficiently mitigated for the stakeholders that were substantially affected by the proposed works.

We are fortunate that these were all public infrastructure projects affecting private property within their respective zones of influence or through physical intervention [5] so their progress through consultations and TWAO process were meticulously recorded. However, private development projects that interface with rail assets are either publicised when there are significant interfaces that have been successfully overcome (papers have either been published or the project has been recognised through an industry award) or at the opposite end of the spectrum, when there are significant challenges that have not been appropriately addressed and have resulted in a very public failure (Old Street [6] and Gerrards Cross [7] and [8]).

Project teams need a variety of skills and input information to assist in addressing interfaces with rail assets, some of these are captured below:

  • Knowledge of land ownership and archive / records of previous developments and land uses and how this relates to the presence of buried assets
  • Survey information, highlighting both the location of underground assets and the geotechnical parameters of the surrounding ground
  • Structural and geotechnical engineers to design substructure and superstructure for proposed works and to determine the unloading and loading generated on the surrounding ground by proposals
  • Geotechnical engineers to undertake ground movement assessments that define the impact on buried assets
  • Rail asset owner Outside Party engineers to define their asset protection requirements and to review impact assessments and determine whether mitigating actions may be required (from modification of the design to installation of movement monitoring systems for their assets)
  • An interface manager who acts as a point of contact between client / developer, their design team and asset owner to ensure that the rail asset owner’s own assurance processes are addressed to their satisfaction.
  • An informed client / developer who, with the assistance of the above, has undertaken a review of associated risks and through risk avoidance / reduction / mitigation, identified the required resources to develop mutually acceptable solutions for both themselves and the rail asset owner.

The Association of Project Management’s book of Knowledge (Ed 7) [9] outlines the process of stakeholder engagement as below:

  • Understanding who needs to be engaged: for rail and utility assets, this is defined depending on asset ownership. There are good sources of search information like Atkins Utility Solutions that assist in defining asset ownership within an area of interest.
  • Navigating socio-political complexity: requiring the need to identify how the diverse skills and information will be coherently brought together to generate collaborative environments within complex constraints.
  • Engagement and influence: working with a diverse team to build support for an intended common goal
  • Facilitation: Creating a suitable environment to collaborate and solve problems
  • Conflict resolutions: to create win-win solutions whenever possible

For the rail asset interface environment, there are some common requirements across this process. A robust technical understanding of building and basement design, construction methodologies, the response of the ground to loading changes, tunnel impact assessments and knowledge of mitigation methods including movement monitoring systems. A detailed understanding of the rail asset owner’s assurance process, and previous knowledge of how developments impact key rail assets. Clear communication, both with key interface project team members, to ensure that developed proposals are suitable to address asset owner concerns and the asset owner, to clearly communicate impacts, proposed mitigations and resultant impact of risk profiles.

A significant number of rail assets within Greater London are underground assets, hence normal communication formats including reports, presentations and drawings are normally sufficient to communicate interfaces and mitigation proposals. However, for more complex interfaces involving congested subsurface areas and operational assets where the result of detrimental impact is unacceptable to both the asset owner (operational impact and safety of passengers) and client (penalties, either reputational or financial) more innovative techniques are adopted. These include clash detection within 3D models to better communicate the interrelationship between proposed works and rail assets, live monitoring data demonstrating how rail assets respond to the construction of proposed works in real time and communicating proposed construction methodologies and sequences through 4D simulations. With the rise of digital twins, there will be an opportunity to combine rail assets, construction methodologies and development proposals within a single interactive model that could provide the ability to update the response of third party assets to, for example, pile installations providing greater assurance to the rail asset owner.

As demonstrated by the Old Street tunnel strike (refer to image above), one of the highest risk areas is installation of boreholes or piles near to underground rail tunnels. The proximity of piles adjacent to assets is normally calculated from pile rig installation data (verticality) and surveys of as installed pile locations. Further technological innovations may allow the live review of pile installations and their proximity to operational tunnels, particularly where piles have had to be installed within tunnel protection zones (TPZ). This could be undertaken by uploading live pile positional and verticality data to a virtual reality (VR) platform allowing asset owners to review live progress of the pile installation operation on a VR platform.

By demonstrating that piling contractors can modify the direction of where the pile is being installed as a direct response to review of live data, this would provide asset owners greater assurance that piles within TPZs can be adequately managed to stay a specified distance away from operational assets. This in turn may allow developers greater flexibility in how close piles can be installed to rail assets and may result in generating more viable schemes, allowing an increase in development gross area that can be constructed adjacent to or above rail assets and in turn have a positive impact on London’s economy.

As rail asset interface developments become more complex and ambitious, there will be a greater need for teams that have greater breadth of experience, both as a team and for each individual. Where the third party interface managers can demonstrate a broader understanding of communication formats, engineering expertise, construction methodologies, project management processes, stakeholder engagement methodologies, development agreements, property matters and interpersonal skills, they will be able to act as integrator for the project interface team and be able to more efficiently address the challenges of more complex development proposals.

In conclusion, technological developments together with a broader but still detailed knowledge base for third party interface teams and individuals can result in increased returns for developers as the interface teams demonstrate to asset owners how their assets can continue to be protected whilst the viability of developments is maintained or improved.

Joe Flores MEng MSc CEng MIStructE MICE MAPM MCMI

Joe Flores is a Chartered Engineer and a Member of the Association of Project Management. His 25 year career has focussed on building and foundations designs, developments that interfaced with rail assets, being Lead Civil Engineer for Bank Station Capacity Upgrade, working on TfL Property Development Over Station and Around Station developments, station projects and rail asset interface developments. Joe’s main focus now is to assist clients and developers with complex rail asset interfaces and to navigate the rail assurance process on the client’s behalf and is working with other Atkins colleagues to develop digital tools to assist in his Third Party interface roles. He is currently Third Party Interface Manager for HB Reavis’ redevelopment of Elizabeth House in Waterloo, a £1.2M sq ft development over or adjacent to four London Underground tube lines and a mainline rail terminus.

Image credits:
Main image, One Waterloo, HB Reavis

First image: Nova Victoria, Land Securities, £1M sq ft development with significant interfaces with Thames Water’s Western Deep sewer and London Underground’s Victoria Station Upgrade, Victoria Line and District & Circle Line.

Second image: Proposed foundation of Old Street scheme and interface with railway tunnel, [6, page 15, Figure 11]

Third image: Cardinal Place, Land Securities, £1M sq ft development with significant interfaces with London Underground’s District & Circle Line.


  1. Application for the London Underground (Camden Town Station) Order, Inspector’s Report: https://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/env/pp/compliance/C2011-60_UK/Communication/Planning_inspector_s_decisions/CamdenTowntubestationInspector__sReport.pdf
  2. Second Time Lucky; Rebuilding Camden Town Station by John Bull, London Reconnections: https://www.londonreconnections.com/2015/second-time-lucky-rebuilding-camden-town-station/ “TfL emerged from the planning process chastened rather than enraged, and many of their own (and later Crossrail’s) planning submissions since shown that the lessons of Camden Town were hard-learned. Antagonising the planning hand that feeds was simply not worth the risk.

In many ways nothing sums up just how much the organisation has moved on post-Camden as the fact that relations between TfL and Camden Council have long since thawed. Indeed as we wrote back in 2013, this meant that genuine discussion of how Camden Town station might be rebuilt has now been underway for some time. The outcome of these discussions is a new consultation from TfL on rebuilding the station.

  1. Figure 8 of Proposed Camden Town Station Capacity Upgrade, 2nd consultation June – August 2017: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/tube/camden-town-station-upgrade/user_uploads/camden-town-station-capacity-upgrade-consultation-report.pdf
  2. Section 8.97 of Report to the Secretary of State for Transport and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The London Underground (Bank Station Capacity Upgrade) Order: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/737117/bank-underground-station-capacity-upgrade-inspectors-report.pdf
  3. 2017 Omar Mohammed Deep Pile Foundation Interceptions in Tunnelling at Bank Station: https://www.britishtunnelling.org.uk/?sitecontentid=17955980-3B59-44A6-846C-1E4F60BDC8FF
  4. Rail Accident Report; Penetration and obstruction of a tunnel between Old Street and Essex Road stations, London 8 March 2013: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/547c8fb940f0b60241000157/R032014_140213_Old_Street.pdf
  5. Wikipedia page, Gerrards Cross Tunnel: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrards_Cross_Tunnel
  6. WordPress page for Gerrards Cross Tunnel: https://gerrardscrosstunnelco llapse.wordpress.com/construction-failures/
  7. Association of Project Management Book of Knowledge, section 3: https://www.apm.org.uk/book-shop/apm-body-of-knowledge-7th-edition/