How upgrading the Queen Street Tunnel is like IS Apps.

Inside the tunnel

Light at the end

At the APM Scottish Conference last week I listened to Rodger Querns of Scotrail describe the recent project to upgrade Queen Street Station Tunnel.

I was  interested in the risks the project team identified to the success of the project and how they chose to handle  those risks.

What’s actually  in the Victorian Tunnel?

No-one was sure. Records were incomplete.

(Undocumented legacy services, anyone?)

Over Christmas and New Year 2014, the project team dug up 20M of the tunnel to find out more about the condition and thickness  of the existing concrete and bedrock,  so that the likely timescale for removing it could be better estimated.

  • It would be useful to be able to do more pre-project investigation like this  routinely
  • We should allow ourselves time to “try stuff out” more.

It could be hard getting – and keeping – workers.

Carrying out works in a “railway environment” requires a specially trained workforce. The team knew there were competing projects elsewhere in the UK already using these workers. So they worked to ensure the site could be registered as a “high street environment” . This meant there would be  a bigger pool of workers to select from.

  • Lack of skills and multiple projects competing for them is often a risk for us.
  • Maybe we can find more creative ways of filling gaps other than training staff up, or bringing in temps?

And working underground isn’t nice. The tunnel is nearly a kilometre long. A burn runs though it.  And up to 500 people could be in there, digging up the rock..  No chance of getting a workie’s tan. Effort ( a lot, I hope) was made to ensure  extra ventilation. A “safety bus” was always on site and rest areas to keep morale up.

  • In IS we always have a risk that we may lose “resources”, but not because they haven’t seen the light of day for weeks!
  • But keeping up morale is  important, or the team can  feel like they *are* stuck in a tunnel.

Long-term loss of customers

The main station was to be closed from February to June. The operator worried that passengers would find some other way to travel, find they liked it and  and stick to with it after the station was reopened.

First task – keep existing trains running.

Before Queen Street closed, the  project spent £15 million pounds (!) on improvements to allow more trains  into Queen Street low level and Glasgow Central.

  • That’s a lot of money to pay not to lose customers. We could make more effort to think about our “semi-captive” customers (staff and students) in that way.

Second task – keep passengers informed.

  • Rodger emphasised the use of websites and social media to keep the customers up-to-date
  • I don’t travel this route much but when I did my trains were on time and there were plenty of helpful ushers
  • After the first couple of days, I don;t recall seeing many complaints in the press.

Did this work? Did they keep their customers? Maybe it’s too soon to say.

  • We often run projects where success can only be measured after the project is closed
  • Often the project team doesn’t get top bask in the success if the benefits come months after delivery


There were also opportunities that came with the disruption.

While the main station was closed.

While the station was closed, the opportunity was taken to rewire, to replace a major sewer and to build a new “car bay”. (I think that’s somewhere for an extra train to go!)

Interestingly the new car bay has been filled (with polystyrene) and paved over as it won’t be used until the station is redeveloped a few years hence. But it’s there, ready.

  • We do this too, when we future-proof and build in scalability

While the tunnel was closed

£10 million pounds was spent on signalling and line improvements at the north end of the tunnel.

  • If this was IT,  it could have a whiff of “feature-creep” about it!But this sort of engineering work is probably routine for them.

Lessons for us?

Network rail are a big organisation who can afford to think ahead, probably decades ahead.

Sometimes project teams feel that thinking is too short-term: opportunities are missed, existing issues put aside. No-one likes a “patch-up job”. I’d like to see us doing more “rewiring”.

But there is always the risk that in adding in desirable “extras”, a project bites off more than it can chew.


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