Major European contractors have flocked to London for a piece of the 21-kilometer Crossrail tunnel project now advancing at more than 40 sites across the city. Billed as Europe's largest infrastructure project, Crossrail survived the U.K.'s toughest austerity drive in generations, in part because officials pushed back its schedule by a year. That move cut the estimated cost by around $1.6 billion, to $23 billion.
The election of a new, budget-slashing U.K. government in May 2010 cast doubt on all state spending just as Crossrail was approaching its main procurement phase. "We spent a lot of time … looking at what we could do to make Crossrail the most attractive investment opportunity we could," says Andy Mitchell program director with Crossrail Ltd. (CRL), the city's project company.
"We knew that, with this project, there would be a strain on U.K. resources for tunneling," says Paul Glass, project director with the BFK joint venture. Spain's Ferrovial Agroman S.A. teamed with the U.K.'s BAM Nutall Ltd. and Kier Construction Ltd. to form BFK and win the 6.1-km-long west twin-tunnel contract, plus station excavations at Farringdon, Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road.
Spain's Dragados S.A. teamed with the Irish Republic's John Sisk & Sons to secure the contract for 11.9 km of the twin drives that form the east-running tunnels. Germany's Hochtief Construction A.G. and locally based J Murphy & Sons Ltd. won the final 2.64 km of tunnel on the east side, including the River Thames crossing. From France, Vinci Group landed the contract to upgrade the 550-m-long Victorian-era Connaught tunnel in the dock area.
International firms bring "top-class tunneling expertise," says Ailie MacAdam, a senior vice president with Bechtel Inc., San Francisco. MacAdam is CRL's delivery director for the new tunnel section, which accounts for about half the total investment, she estimates.
Teams are now busy working at the sites of seven new underground stations. The first of six earth-pressure-balance (EPB) tunnel-boring machines has driven over 700 m of the west tunnel and will soon be joined by its twin. The east tunnel's first EPB machine is under assembly at Limmo Peninsula, with a second being prepared for shipment from Germany. For the east tunnels, the remaining two EPBs and two slurry TBMs will launch between this winter and 2014 for a 2018 completion—a year later than planned.
Around 200 million passengers per year will use Crossrail when it opens, increasing by 10% the city's rail capacity, say CRL forecasters. The 118-km east-west line, between Shenfield and Abbey Maidenhead and Heathrow Airport, includes the tunnel section in central London and passes through underground stations being grafted onto existing large transportation hubs.
The U.K.'s rail infrastructure owner, Network Rail, is handling surface construction on either side of the city, accounting for 15% of overall investment. London Underground Ltd. is managing and financing upgrades to its metro stations serving Crossrail; CRL is handling all work in the central tunnel and stations.