SYSTRA Aims High

SYSTRA Aims High

The article below was first published in the 5 July edition of Rail Magazine

PAUL STEPHEN catches up with SYSTRA’s senior high-speed rail management team to find what the international transport planning, consultancy and engineering provider can offer to the successful delivery of high speed rail in the UK

SYSTRA prides itself as a company that lives and breathes high speed rail like no other. Having been at the forefront of large inter-city rail projects across the globe, it has been involved in over half of the world’s high-speed lines.

This includes HS1, currently the UK’s only high-speed line. SYSTRA was a founding member of Rail Link Engineering (RLE), alongside partners Bechtel, Arup and Halcrow. SYSTRA had a 14% share in RLE, which successfully designed and engineered the channel tunnel rail link (CTRL).

HS1 helped SYSTRA demonstrate its credibility of delivering major infrastructure in the UK and since then the company has been working on Crossrail. SYSTRA along with Bechtel and CH2m are project delivery partners for Crossrail - together they are integral to the Crossrail management team, responsible for managing the development of detailed design, construction and commissioning.

SYSTRA has nearly 400 staff in the UK and Ireland working in 16 offices, and hopes to play a central role in ushering in the next era of high speed rail in the UK.

Despite the global reach of the company, SYSTRA recognises the bespoke challenges of building a new generation of high-speed infrastructure in the UK. Julie Carrier, SYSTRA’s Programme Director for High Speed Rail, points out that the company is incredibly agile and will adapt its offer to suit each country’s characteristics.

“Having cut our teeth on three decades of high speed rail projects in France, we have successfully exported our expertise around the world, and become adept at tailoring solutions to specific client needs, local markets and stakeholders,” she says.

Carrier explains, “For many years, we’ve been designing for the safe, whole life operation and maintenance of high-speed rail projects. What our clients tell us is that, they like the ability to take our ideas, blend them with local ideas and together we can create something even better.

Developing a high-speed network will strengthen our growing economy.
Julie Carrier, Programme Director, High-Speed Rail, SYSTRA

“Our strategy is that there is by no means a one-size-fits-all approach for high-speed rail around the world. What might work in California, for example, may not work in the UK.

“Safety is a priority in the UK as well as value for money and, importantly, a diverse and inclusive workforce. For me and my team, we will respond to the UK’s priorities and will adapt our processes to suit.

“One of the challenges in the UK will be recruitment. The National College for High Speed Rail is a strong statement of intent, and we are fully supportive. In fact, we have already begun the process of recruiting apprentices and will work with the College to share our knowledge through training apprentices here and with our international teams working on live projects. One project that’s worth learning from is the recently completed Tours-Bordeaux (or SEA) high-speed line.”

SEA (Sud Europe Atlantique) is a 300km (187 miles) high-speed line between Tours and Bordeaux, in France. Reducing journey times between Paris and Bordeaux to under two hours, the line was inaugurated in May, and will enter service at the start of July.

On April 3 2007, a TGV achieved the current world rail speed record of 357mph on the LGV Est high-speedline in France, before the line’s official opening two months later. The speed trials were run to gather data on the effects of higher speed running on train, rail and catenary, and were conducted jointly by French national rail company SNCF, TGV manufacturer Alstom, line owner Réseau Ferré de France, and engineers from SYSTRA. The trial found the higher speeds were not possible due to transverse waves caused by the pantograph where it connects to the contact wire, causing a loss in contact between the two.

It is also the latest example of SYSTRA demonstrating its high-speed credentials, after it played a role in four of the five joint ventures contracted to design and build the line. It is also part of the MESEA joint venture tasked with maintaining the line during its operation, and ensuring a demanding availability of 99.98%.

SYSTRA’s Project Director for High-Speed Rosario Barcena says that a requirement for SEA was that contractors had to increase the local value of construction contracts by hiring locally. She points out that at its construction peak, more than 9,000 people were trained and recruited for SEA, including 2,000 in local contracts. Each employee was required to be trained in at least one new skill.

“On par with high-speed investment throughout the world, the lasting legacy of the SEA line will be a significant boost to the local economy of those cities served by the line,” she says.

“Business confidence will grow and it is expected tourism will blossom. To me, the UK can go further still and work towards another Government priority of bringing north and south communities closer together.

“In the UK, I feel that railways often suffer from poor image, which may come from a history of closures and delays. We must dispel this image and show that new railway lines are worth it.”

Carrier agrees that SYSTRA can certainly help promote the positive messages, showcasing its thorough knowledge of highspeed projects among the community.

She adds: “There is a lot less opposition to high-speed rail in France and on the continent, perhaps because they have been more effective at engaging with communities, and people have seen how these mega projects can deliver benefits to their lives. We have developed some innovative techniques to help clients engage with stakeholders, but we still have work to do to convince people in the UK this is the case!

“There was a sense of pride in France when they built their first high-speed line in 1981, a feeling of achievement of pioneering new technology. The French love railways and have seen first hand the benefits that living near a high speed route will bring. I’m personally enthused to be playing my part in the next generation of high-speed in the UK.”

As well as providing effective stakeholder engagement, SYSTRA’s ace card will be its unrivalled ability to innovate and push technological boundaries, argues Director of Innovation Pierre-Etienne Gautier. By continuing to develop new concepts for high speed, Gautier and his team aim to shape a more positive future for high-speed rail by making it faster and more affordable to build, and easier to maintain.

This includes innovative use of BIM technology to engage with stakeholders and maximizing efficient use of resources and materials through clever solutions.

“We have a tool which allows us to create a full digital replica of the construction of the line, to allow people to experience what it will feel like to live near a high-speed railway. They can engage with our designers in proposing noise mitigation measures for example, or express an opinion on the choice of cladding for a bridge.

“We have used our innovation workshops to look at all solutions that will reduce the cost of high-speed rail and new ways of installing signalling and track. We are trying to bring solutions to market that can reduce costs, in some cases by 10%-20%, but rightly Governments throughout the world want proof that these solutions will work before they invest.

Carrier concludes: “There is no doubt that the investment in high speed rail is significant. The UK began its high-speed rail chapter over a decade ago. All the evidence from our neighbours - Germany, Spain and France - show that following their first major investment in city to city high-speed rail connectivity, the benefits are so great, that developing a network is necessary. Creating a high-speed rail network in the UK can only be a catalyst for growth.”

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SYSTRA Ltd Registered office: 3rd Floor, 1 Carey Lane, London, England EC2V 8AE. Registered Number 3383212