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We’re looking at issues that will be faced on the UK’s proposed HS2 line. But clients, designers, contractors, and the many, many diverse stakeholders involved in high speed rail projects anywhere in the world will have to tackle the same challenges.

Fit for the future Tony Walker

Two decades ago few were predicting the rate of growth enjoyed by rail over the past 20 years. That coloured the UK’s approach to rail investment, which was directed mostly at maintenance and enhancement.

Today, the prevailing climate is different. Radically so. The classic network is growing with schemes like the Borders Railway; Crossrail demonstrates a political willingness to be bold and ambitious. And arriving soon in the landscape is HS2.

Until now, most high speed rail projects have been in locations with a lot of space and few interfaces with existing infrastructure. The UK’s high population density and legacy of historical structures and workings all have engineering and cost implications.

Among the challenges are the many interfaces between a new route and neighbouring communities, environmental and ecological sites, and existing infrastructure, requiring the management of multiple analysis, design and assessment activities and the vast quantities of data they produce. Managing relationships requires perhaps even more skill and great sensitivity.

This publication highlights five of the crunch issues that have to be grappled with in delivering a new high speed route – track bed design, geotechnics, control of noise and vibration, and the potentially game-changing impact that BIM and low carbon design can have on the efficiency and cost of delivery and operation.

From BIM and carbon management, through lean construction processes to the integration of digital technologies and the creation of smart infrastructure, the challenge is there for all involved in delivering and managing high speed rail: to achieve improvement without compromise.

That improvement must ultimately be focused on the people who will use high speed rail services. Beyond design of the trackform, we’re thinking about how people will interconnect with and move through stations, about the opportunities for development around the station, and potential to enhance life for those living alongside the route.

High speed rail offers an amazing opportunity for engineers to create something vitally important for the future set in a much wider context than most projects.

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