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05 Nov 2015
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As the first phase of the East West Rail rail link opens, Dan Bishop explains his role in the project - what it means for the communities involved, the collaboration that's taken place and the outlook for the next phase.
Question: What is the top visitor attraction for Chinese visitors to the UK?
Answer: Buckingham Palace.
Well, it is in the middle of Central London and next door to many of the other attractions on the ‘10 places in the UK you really must go to’ hit list.
Ok, so the next question: Where do they head to next?
Answer: Bicester Village.
That’s right, Bicester Village. Are you surprised? I certainly was when a colleague shared this fact with me. But it turns out I shouldn’t have been surprised at all, as this 20 year-old venture attracts well over 6 million visitors a year from across the UK and beyond to spend their hard earned money on a variety of designer goods. All good news for the UK economy and long may it continue, but what has this all got to do with Atkins?
Well, getting shoppers to and from Bicester Village from London more expediently (no longer having to hop on a transfer bus) is just one of the many benefits that the East West Rail Phase 1 project brings; and East West Rail Phase 1 is a project I am very proud to have been involved with since 2008.
So firstly some project details. East West Rail Phase 1 is the first new rail link between London and another major UK city for over 100 years and it was opened on 26th October 2015 by none other than David Cameron. East West Rail Phase 1 now runs between a new parkway station on the outskirts of Oxford and Bicester and then into London via a new connecting chord line on the Birmingham to London main line. Eventually it will run all the way into Oxford station but more importantly, this first phase forms part of a much larger project to provide railway connections between Oxford and Bedford, Milton Keynes and Aylesbury Vale (referred to as East West Rail Phase 2- and watch this space for more information on how Atkins are involved in this future phase).
When I first got involved with the project back in 2008, I was managing the completion of a small study looking at the condition of the railway between Bicester and Oxford on behalf of Chiltern Railways. Chiltern Railways wanted to provide an alternative route to London for the thousands of passengers who parked up outside Oxford, got on a bus into Oxford and then onto a train to London. Why? Because they believed they could offer something better with reduced journey times, less traffic congestion into Oxford, better stations and of course, better shopping to name a few.
But did it all stack up financially? Well, whilst I was busy helping to solve the engineering problems associated with upgrading the line, others within Atkins were working hard on business case work which showed that rebuilding this stretch of railway, along with the subsequent sections to the east, would unlock significant economic growth. In fact, the Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) for the full scheme is reportedly a minimum of 6:1, so that’s £6 back for every £1 spent – not a bad return and on top of that it is expected that the scheme would pay for itself within a mere 6 years of operation. This scheme therefore fell squarely into the no-brainer category of ‘things we really should invest in’ – and so they did.
Since 2008 we haven’t looked back. We’ve worked with a range of clients including the East West Rail Consortium, Chiltern Railways, BAM Nuttall, Network Rail, Carillion, Buckingham, Siemens and others to develop and design a modern, twin track 100mph railway using our expertise in disciplines including project and engineering management, track, civil, structural, mechanical & electrical, telecoms, signalling, electrification, surveying, highways, geotechnical, drainage, utilities, architecture, noise and vibration monitoring and modelling, environmental and engineering safety management. All provided from numerous offices across the UK and India.
Throughout the project we’ve been incredibly mindful of the broader context, the benefits of the scheme, our client’s aspirations and how Atkins can best support the project. Our involvement showcases our phenomenal expertise, how our dedicated people make a real difference that really delights our clients and their customers.
So what is next? Well, we’ve got some work to do to finish Phase 1 off and then we’re straight into Phase 2 as part of a new alliance and we can’t wait. And whilst we’re busy doing this, our friends from Asia are listening to the Cantonese and Mandarin announcements on the train telling them they are arriving in Bicester Village!
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