Rail Professional Asia Pacific sat down with Jeremy Shaffer and Mike Coldrick from Bentley at SITCE 2016 in Singapore to talk about Crossrail, new standards and practices, and how Asia Pacific can learn from successful projects…
What is Bentley doing in the world of rail and how do you both fit in to that?
Jeremy: I’ve been involved in road and rail asset management projects all over the world and with the advent of Crossrail I was asked to shift my focus on to rail specifically. Today I cover everything to do with rail and transit from planning, through design and construction, to operations and maintenance. Here in Asia Pacific the drivers for rail investment are the same as elsewhere in the world, including the growth in population, pace of urbanisation, and the effect of climate change, making rail the only viable and sustainable solution to a lot of the logistical issues the region faces.
Mike: Greg Bentley, Bentley Systems CEO, recently set up a task force to meet the opportunities resulting from the significant investment in rail in this part of the world. Bentley has a strong background and pedigree in supplying software solutions to the rail community, with projects like Crossrail in the UK. The company has a large team of domain experts and I was selected to lead with Jeremy’s help our focus in this industry. With rail activity here in Asia Pacific being so huge we naturally saw the capacity for a company like ours to help.
The infrastructure in Europe and the US is so old, whereas a country like Laos, for example, has no rail roads at all, does that make it an easier place to develop new railways?
Jeremy: The short answer is yes. Take this analogy, the US and Europe had some of the first cell phone networks but today if you look at Africa, some of their networks are better. At times there can be a disadvantage to being a first adopter. Coming in on the second floor means you don’t have to worry about maintaining old infrastructure, where implementation might not have been optimal. It means you can benefit from all the lessons learned on previous projects without the pain and cost that others have already experienced. It can also be much more expensive to rejuvenate an existing line, network, or brownfield site, versus building a new one from scratch. For example, if you need to upgrade tracks where there is no additional right of way, maintaining service can become an issue, you have to take possession of the infrastructure at night time or on weekends and incrementally carry out the required work.
Bentley is a software company which provides solutions to challenges faced by rail professionals throughout the entire lifecycle, which is vital for all the new lines being planned or built currently. We can help right from the planning stage, providing tools that enable engineers and designers to digitally model and manage information relating to all the relevant rail infrastructure asset types. Crossrail was really ahead of the curve in respect of the latter, choosing to hire its asset manager right at the beginning of construction, where traditionally this might not have been done until the line begins operating.
What was Bentley’s involvement in Crossrail?
Mike: From the start, one of the key challenges was to help Crossrail communicate its objectives for the project with those in the large and complex supply chain. In a joint initiative with Crossrail, an information academy was set up in our London offices for exactly this purpose, transferring knowledge to team members and those working on other infrastructure projects. Crossrail talk about building two railways, one physical and the other virtual. The latter is critical to its vision of handing over a digital version of the railway upon completion so that it may be used as the basis of asset management systems from day one of operations. The attitude was that they didn’t only want to be judged on how the railway was built but how it operated too, even though a different organisation would be performing this role. Therefore, to get to a point where all the standards and practices it was adopting, including BIM (Building Information Modelling) were understood, they had to be explained to the companies and individuals working on the project.
What lessons could Asia Pacific projects learn from Crossrail?
Jeremy: The importance of exceptionally strong leadership. Crossrail had a vision, and while there were hundreds of stakeholders on the project they worked as one team. As Mike said, they came at it from the mentality of building two railroads. From a digital perspective, it’s not just the onetime production of a file but the creation and maintaining of a living, breathing set of information built and leveraged throughout the process. When you consider all the different disciplines involved, one station might require tunnel experts, electrical systems engineers, along with the rail designers to all access the same data while maintaining its integrity. Crossrail achieve this via what it calls its common data environment, which to date has seen somewhere in the region of 13,000 people access information relevant to the task they are performing.
Would you say it’s important for the countries in this region to have a personality that can drive forward a plan?
Mike: Taking Singapore as an example, the LTA and SMRT have visited the Academy three times and met with Crossrail’s chief executive who would have explained his vision and how it might translate to their plans. Singapore is not alone, many countries from Southeast Asia are also keen to learn the best practices needed to deliver a mega project on time and on budget. Seeing the collaborative nature of the people at the heart of an operation also helps. Chief executives will by nature usually have a strong personality, and if something has been achieved once, a good leader can show the way using experience gained on, or the success of, previous projects.
Therefore, if a team that can work together is in place, there should be no reason why experience gained elsewhere cannot be applied here on the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high speed rail or the Mindanao project in the Philippines.
Jeremy: Whether you’re in Bangkok or Beijing, you want your project to be delivered on time and on budget, and to be safe and reliable during operations.
So, when you have examples of that kind of success, I think it’s natural to want to know why and how that is happening, and try and replicate it. You will always have visionaries and a second group that refines it, Crossrail clearly have that visionary leadership, and I firmly believe that others can learn and benefit from the lessons it has learned, while building on that solid foundation.
If a successful process can be followed, which countries in Asia Pacific are best placed to take advantage of that?
Mike: If you look at Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong, the big advantage is that a lot of their rail standards are fully evolved and adopted. I would say that the railways in these countries have been built to early Victorian era standards, so they are very keen to adopt the new standard and practices because of that synergy.
Jeremy: And that consideration does make countries in the region think about how they will decide on operating costs from the point of view of running a railway for hundred or more years. Crossrail took that long view and other entities here can now consider taking more a holistic view for a longer lifecycle. Here at SITCE there’s a lot of talk about whole life cost, which I believe lends itself to a Crossrail like approach, where the accumulation of data can assist the supply chain beyond construction and into operations.
What projects are Bentley currently working on in the region?
Mike: In terms of projects we’re involved with here in Singapore, we’re working with SMRT on its maintenance software, which came after they adopted software they saw at Network Rail in the UK.