Understanding the client: working relations deep underground
On the surface, it looks like a perfectly ordinary day in London. But, 20 metres below the iconic streets, a legion of people work on maintaining and updating the world’s oldest underground network.
Most of this maintenance is conducted during the four hours every night that trains don’t run.
WCS is one of the few companies that has experience designing cabling infrastructure installations for the London Underground and, therefore, often finds itself surveying in hot, restrictive conditions alongside any number of other contractors.
Working in tandem with many others in the networks below ground requires excellent technical and soft skills, a blended approach to modern engineering exemplified by WCS engineers.
A unique working environment
Once underground, our role is often carrying out surveys of tunnels in confined spaces, many times accompanied by water ingress and rodents. With so little time available to complete essential maintenance works, there’s always a demand for space in the restrictive tunnels as various contractors carry out different jobs alongside one another.
During the construction phase, the main contractor will have ‘ownership’ of a specific area, meaning WCS can go in and survey the topography of the proposed cable routes, identifying constraints and opportunities for the proposed cable install.
But, other companies will often be on-site too. Excellent cooperation among contractors is key to the smooth delivery of any element of new or improved infrastructure, but particularly when dealing with limited working space and tight schedules found on LUL projects.
As the repair of infrastructure assets often relies heavily on the work of subcontractors, we must all work to ensure that these professional relationships are healthy.
WCS design teams are committed to thriving and cooperative engagement with our Tier 1 contractor clients and all relevant stakeholders from the beginning of the tendering period. Although we have established connections and are renowned for our engineering acumen, early engagement like this goes a long way to ensuring successful delivery for the project.
Our people know that outstanding communication is integral to a smooth and efficient operation from start to finish.
Engineers at WCS believe that straightforward dialogue between all parties is essential to professional relationships, whether it’s between client and subcontractor or amongst subcontractors themselves.
When working on substations and cable routes on the London Underground, our teams frequently interact with multiple parties working on the same – and different – projects, leading to helpful knowledge sharing.
We’re also able to build on relationships with other subcontractors by continuing to demonstrate our positive on-site attitude underpinned by our known engineering excellence. Should we meet a new company on the Underground, with whom we have never worked, our friendly, collaborative and expert approach sees our engineers readily accepted and respected wherever they operate.
As much as we are happy to get our boots on site though, we do believe that in the restricted environment of the London Underground, it is entirely advantageous for our client’s programme and budget to try and keep the number of visits to a minimum. Our use of 3D modelling allows us to survey the intricacies of the spaces we’re working in, helping us to recreate the project environment in the office. Our ability to employ advanced BIM technology means we can study the potential hazards and opportunities for the design from our desks, as well as communicate them to the client with clarity.
Agility and responsiveness
As an SME, we can respond to particular and evolving demands in ways that larger corporations often cannot. Working in smaller, dedicated teams makes decision-making processes quicker and shortens our response times.
With our specific technical knowledge and experience of London Underground cable infrastructure, complemented by our agility and responsiveness, it’s clear why WCS is the go-to firm for London Underground’s cabling and substation design.
Collaborative and positive
CAD & BIM Manager at WCS, Dave Crumley, has been down in the depths of the Underground many times and knows the importance of understanding between everyone on site:
“As engineers, we will always go to site when necessary, but using technology to replicate the environment at headquarters means we can look at the best ways to design infrastructure that fits the restricted corners and spaces found on the Underground network.
“At WCS, we hire people with fantastic communication skills and the ability to see the bigger picture. Yes, we’re focused on the job we’re doing, but we should also be mindful that other people on site should also be respected for their skills and deadlines.
“WCS collaborates as much as possible for two main reasons: firstly, to get the job done quickly and efficiently and secondly, to be an example within the sector of a company known for a positive, proactive attitude with clients and contractors whether underground or overground.”
With more TfL investment now being redirected from Crossrail back to LUL projects, it’s more important than ever that companies are ready to meet the Underground challenge.