The Anonymous Widower

Why Is It Public Projects Tend To Be Late?

I read in The Times today that the new headquarters building of the European Central Bank is three years late and €500 million over budget.

It’s only similar to Portcullis House, Philharmonie de Paris, the Jubilee Line Extension and innumerable cancelled government computer systems.

At least though in recent years, we seem to be getting our project management better, even if the Eurozone will have to pay the bill for the new ECB headquarters.

February 21, 2014 Posted by | World | , | 2 Comments

Network Rail were going to close the West Coast Main Line in the Watford area for track works this Summer and in February next year. But these closures have been cancelled, according to this article in Modern Railways. It looks like that some nifty project management has been applied. So often this type of major project ends up causing troubles all round, as the project management is non-existent.

Here, Network Rail deserve praise, especially, if it works out as planned.

February 3, 2014 Posted by | Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Work Starts On A Bigger Overground

I found this article about work at Clapham Junction station to prepare for longer trains on the London Overground at the end of 2014.

You don’t hear or read many complaints about London’s newest railway, from passengers or even moans from staff. In many ways this is a tribute to the engineers and architects, who’ve turned a very shabby almost-derelict railway into a superstar.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from how Transport for London has created the Overground, that should be applied to transport projects throughout the world.

In some ways , the stars of the line are the Class 378 trains. You rarely hear of train failures and the interiors still seem pristine after nearly four years of service. And now, because of their design, they’re being extended by the simple addition of a fifth carriage in the middle.

And of course they were all designed and built in Derby!

Gradually, the stations are being improved and in a few years, some of the grubbier will be up to the standard of the best.

On a personal note, as well as giving me a lot of transport options, in common with many others who live along the line, the Overground has probably contributed to the rise in the value of my house.

January 3, 2014 Posted by | Travel | , , , | 1 Comment

Does Lindsey Bareham Cook By Herself?

As someone, who generally cooks alone, even if I’m doing it for a guest, I do sometimes find that some recipes aren’t that easy to do without help. Too many seem to require something like peeling potatoes, whilst you are stirring a sauce or watching several pots to see that they don’t boil.

But I never have these problems with recipes from Lindsey, and I now suspect she cooks everything by herself in the kitchen.

I spotted this as I read the recipe for my favourite fish pie, which I will cook tonight whilst watching the television.  It’s by Jamie Oliver and although simple, it definitely doesn’t have a clear critical path with one person.

November 6, 2013 Posted by | Food | , , | Leave a comment

Do We Need A Rolling HS2?

The report today by the think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs, which says that HS2 will cost a lot more than is currently budgetted for. It’s all reported here on the BBC.

They make a lot of good points in the report.

Extra infrastructure such as trams and trains, will be needed to link other areas to the route.

Extra tunnels and other infrastructure will be needed to buy off the opposition.

The BBC summarises it like this.

The report said HS2 “and the add-on transport schemes will be heavily loss-making in commercial terms – hence the requirement for massive taxpayer support”.

As someone, who is very familiar with project management, I’ve always felt that the logic of HS2 and the way it is being implemented could and will be improved.

If we look at the current rail network, it has problems that will eventually be solved or helped by HS2.

Euston station is not fit for purpose and should be redeveloped and/or relieved. I favour a second terminus of the West Coast Main Line at Old Oak Common, as I mused here.

There are very severe capacity problems on the northern part of the West Coast Min Line between Wigan and Glasgow.  This is not part of the current HS2, so perhaps it should be done to make sure the Scots get their connections to the South improved.

The East Coast Main Line to Leeds and Newcastle, has a notorious bottleneck at the Digswell Viaduct  and according to this report on the BBC web site, it could be removed for under half a billion.

One problem that HS2 doesn’t solve is the bad connections across the north of England from Liverpool to Leeds and Hull.  This BBC report includes an estimate of a billion plus.

So should we just define the route for HS2 and then break it into a series of manageable projects, that are implemented over the years.

We might design large stretches for say 300 kph, but most of the upgraded network would have limits of around 200 to 250 kph.  Effectively large sections of the East and West Coast Main Lines can now handle 225 kph and just need resignalling.

The new Class 800 and Class 801 trains will be built to a design speed of 225 kph.

In some ways these trains may be the key to the whole of the expansion of high-speed services. I suspect, we’ll see them on London to Sheffield and Norwich for a start.

August 18, 2013 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crossrail Don’t Just Dig Tunnels

This report on the BBC, gives the latest progress on the archaeology program, that runs alongside Crossrail. Similar reports have also turned up all over the world including this one from India. So perhaps Crossrail is showing the world how to dig in more ways than one!

You have to congratulate Crossrail on their attitude to the past, which seems to be much better than other projects.

I suppose you could also be cynical, and say that they see the public relations as beneficial to getting the project done on time, as it minimises objections.

But who cares, if the project comes in on or under budget? Everybody! 

August 9, 2013 Posted by | Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

Putting The Cart Before The Horse

The Standard is reporting tonight, that Lord Mandelson has changed his mind over the building of HS2. Here’s a flavour.

In an extraordinary public U-turn, he confessed the costings were “almost entirely speculative” when Gordon Brown’s Cabinet backed the idea.

Ministers wanted a “bold commitment to modernisation” after the financial crash, he said, and ignored the potential risks of what now looked like “an expensive mistake”.

But then as Gordon Brown didn’t have the financial acumen to run a whelk stall, what do you expect?

I’ve always been slightly cynical about HS2 and feel if it ever gets built, it won’t be as is now envisaged.

But one thought struck me, as I read the article and it gave rise to the title of this post.

My background is in Project Management, which is all about getting things build the right way and in the correct order.   Judging by all the arguments about how Heathrow Airport will link in to HS2, it struck me as strange that we are deciding the route of HS2 before we decide if we’re going to build a new airport for London.

Look at any option, with the possible exception of a third runway at Heathrow and we’ll have to revamp the railways around London, to create links to the North.

Strangely in a few years time, when the Midland Main Line is electrified, Sheffield will have the best links to a London airport, of any northern city. I suspect they’ll be running trains from Sheffield to Brighton, which of course will stop at Gatwick.

That just shows how well politicians plan transport networks.

They haven’t really done anything to solve the North-South problems we currently have and what will happen to construction methods in the near future.

HS2 is initially planned to go from London to Birmingham, but that route has one high speed 200 kph line and a convenient slower one. As I found last week, when I went to Birmingham, it’s a good service and a lot of the problems are on their way to being solved. I wonder what amount of traffic, an upgraded and electrified Chiltern Main Line could carry, thus delaying the need for HS2 to Birmingham!

But go North from Birmingham to Manchester, Liverpool and ultimately Scotland and there is a real lack of capacity. Admittedly, Virgin’s lengthened trains and a few new ones will help, but that line will probably be the first part of the West Coast Main Line to get totally overloaded.

So perhaps we should build it from North to South as some have proposed.

A very real problem is the cess-pit at the London end of the line; Euston.  It was built on the cheap in the 1960s and needs a complete rebuild. Rebuilding Euston and building HS2 at the same time, would be a recipe for disaster.

And then there’s the problem of freight capacity, which is going to get worse, as some idiot decided to build the UK’s largest container port at London Gateway, in a place which is difficult to get to by rail,as most trains will have to fight their way through London. You could argue that the proposal to run freight trains on the old Grand Central Line by a company called Central Railway, should have been built as a freight spine first.

Building this line, would probably have taken a lot of the freight off the West Coast Main Line, so giving us the extra passenger capacity we need, at least as far as Manchester and Liverpool for a few years.

As with many things in Project Management, you don’t let politicians be involved in the design or choose the order you do something!

I always remember the building of the Lewisham Extension of the Docklands Light Railway. The contractors were told it had to link various holes in the ground and cost under a certain amount.  The politicians then stood back and it was delivered on time at an acceptable price.  Not like the Jubilee Line Extension, which was built at a similar time and suffered endless interference from politicians.

One of my laws of project management states that the more political or board level interference in a project, the later and more costly the project will be. If however those at the top lay down a feasible specification with rigid time and cost limits, the project will more likely be delivered successfully.

July 3, 2013 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Good Project Management At Heathrow

It may be something that doesn’t affect many of us, but airport runways need to be rebuilt every so often.

This report on the BBC this morning about resurfacing the Southern Runway at Heathrow, shows how good project management helps difficult jobs to be done, with the least disturbance to anyone.

I liked the bit about using models to educate the workforce before the project was started.

Let’s hope the rest of the project goes as well as the eighty metres they did in the night of the report.

June 12, 2013 Posted by | Travel | , , | 2 Comments

The French Get Touchy About Language

The French can get very touchy, when English encroaches on territory, they think is reserved for French.

But this row, reported here on the BBC is totally of their own making, Here’s the introduction.

The French parliament is debating a new road map for French universities, which includes the proposal of allowing courses to be taught in English. For some, this amounts to a betrayal of the national language and, more specifically, of a particular way at looking at the world – for others it’s just accepting the inevitable.

The English-speaking world has nothing to do with it.

My French is such, that I can get by as a tourist.  I also successfully used the language, when I was at ICI, as it was quicker to read scientific reports from the Belgian company, Solvay, in French, rather than wait for a translation.

On the other hand, when I was in Montreal, a few years ago, I was totally baffled, as Canadian French, is more different to French, than American is to English.

When we developed Artemis, we sold in quite a few European countries, but didn’t bother with French, as we thought they would be touchy, wanting everything in their own language.

In the late 1970s, Metier had installed an Artemis system, at Chrysler in Coventry. For various reasons, it hadn’t been upgraded, as much as it should. Soon after Peugeot-Citroen took over Chrysler in 1979, someone in Peugeot-Citroen decided to do a company wide survey of the various project management systems in use in the group. on one visit they went to Coventry and because they were impressed with what they saw, they came straight down the M1 to see us in our offices in Hayes.

Peugeot-Citroen then decided to buy a system for Paris.  We told them it was only in English, but they said not to matter, as all their engineers knew the language.  They did ask us to get some proper sales flyers in French.

The rest as they say is history, in that Peugeot-Citroen introduced Artemis to a lot of their friends.

Another story I remember, which illustrates the French and their language, happened a few years later. In the 1980s, I owned a company that made hand-tools.  One tool, was exported to France and the United States.  Our American agent asked if we could produce an English/French version for Canada. But a straight combination of what we already had was unacceptable and we had to get a special French Canadian translation at great expense. Eventually, the Canadians excepted it.

A couple of years afterwards, we had an urgent order from France, but unfortunately we were out of French leaflets.  So we faxed over the French Canadian one to ask if that would be acceptable. The response was, that it will do, but that the French would have a bit of a laugh about the language.

Make of that, what you will!

I should say, that I once travelled to the States with a secretary from the New Zealand embassy in Ottawa.  She told me, that some Canadians got very upset, if she sent them a letter with some American  English spelling.

May 22, 2013 Posted by | News, World | , , , | 2 Comments

All Lined Up And Ready To Go

According to this article on Crossrail’s web site, they are at full production of the lining segments for the tunnels at the Chatham factory.

All Lined Up And Ready To Go

All Lined Up And Ready To Go

There are certainly lots of them at the Limmo site waiting to go underground, after being barged from Chatham.

When the Victoria and Jubilee lines were dug in the past, I don’t think that we saw such well-organised manufacture of tunnel linings and other components.

It all shows how our methods and especially the project management has improved.

When HS2 is built, who can predict accurately how much further improvement is possible?

April 25, 2013 Posted by | Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

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