Over the next five years, Australia is on track to see more than $14 billion per year of rail-related construction activity. Projects are in the works across both cities and regional areas. One critical factor for success? The project delivery framework. This is especially important for large-scale, multidisciplinary ‘megaprojects’ which are projects over $1 billion.
Traditionally, rail projects have been managed with the Design & Construct (D&C) methodology, but the shift to the digitalisation of railways, need to improve capacity with existing infrastructure and the ongoing need to improve safety, have all added extra layers of complexity and created the need for a new delivery framework. Add to this, COVID’s shift to hybrid working means clearer communications and expectations are required across project teams.
To help solve these challenges, our team has developed the Integrated Systems Delivery framework, which utilises aspects of digital engineering, project management and systems engineering as the backbone to project delivery. WSP’s Senior Systems Engineer Thomas Wagner, who developed the framework, and colleague Associate Systems Engineer Curran Dhaliwal, sat down with us to discuss how it works.
It all starts with a plan
This new framework is an update on the D&C model, and it puts an integrated project environment at the core of project delivery. The first way it does this is by extending the initial upfront planning period. The goal is to develop a solid platform, and to have defined process and systems in place prior to kick-off - ultimately save cost and frustration due to rework down the line.
Thomas says, “Typically when a project is awarded, everyone hits the ground running. There is no real upfront process-setting or outlining of requirements. These things are done concurrently with the design. And because this upfront period is short or non-existent, there can end up being a lot of rework. Our new framework proposes taking up to a month for initial planning. The purpose being to minimise the unknowns and variables. Notably it also helps de-risk the project. This is a shift from how things are currently done in the rail industry, but it is particularly beneficial for these complex projects.”
One aspect of the process is creating detailed migration roadmaps, system architectures and system requirements – drawing on methodology used by systems engineers like Curran. He says, “To develop the roadmap, we look at the key touchpoints for each team. What are the preceding events for each discipline to complete their work? What are the stages? What do they each unlock? We build a roadmap from this information, which then becomes a great communication and tracking tool throughout the course of the project.
“This framework also helps to facilitate a move away from siloed teams, which we’ve seen increase since remote and hybrid working came into effect with COVID.”
The result of this mapping process is an intuitive, high-level version of a Primavera P6 schedule. The migration roadmap becomes a key schematic that makes it easy for teams to understand what is happening and when and make more informed decisions.
The digital switch
Once teams jump aboard the design phase, the Integrated Systems Delivery framework incorporates a continuous iterative design approach utilising the integrated digital model - a process that also works well with Digital Twin projects. The key here is in combining aspects from both systems and digital. Thomas says, “System engineering helps with the traceability and auditability, while the digital model allows everyone to collaborate and bring their work together. Our framework lets teams identify the issues earlier in the design stage compared to the traditional delivery methods, work collaboratively to solve those issues, and in-turn, saving cost and time.”
This helps teams deliver new integrated technologies like ETCS, CBTC and automatic train operation . These systems need verifications throughout the design process to ensure that the design meets the project requirements and needs of stakeholders. Continuously updating the digital model allows for this, and it is in a format relevant for the design team. In the construction phase the simulation of the construction allows teams to avoid issues happening in real life because they are identified ahead of time.
Curran says, “If there's a change later in the life cycle, it costs exponentially more to fix it. So it's best to try to identify issues as soon as you can through a systematic process.”
Thomas agrees, saying, “Although this process may seem more expensive upfront, it will likely save costly issues that may occur down the line. Clients won’t see them occur because they’ll be resolved before coming to fruition.”
Supporting seamless handover
During a rail project’s final construction to handover phase, this framework addresses a common issue around implementation planning which is that it can often occur retrospectively and be delayed by project teams. Here it is part of the initial planning stage and further developed during the design phase. By using digital models, teams can predict and avoid issues earlier than traditionally requiring the system to have been constructed – like requirements around signal sighting.
And as the industry continues evolving, there is an anticipated shift towards in-cab signalling and automatic train operation. These changes will affect lineside equipment, rollingstock design, train control, rail operations and maintenance. A bold new model for project delivery like this one will help projects arrive at their destination according to schedule.
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