Transport infrastructure spending seems to be one of construction’s good news stories. According to Davis Langdon, there has been 10% growth in real terms
in infrastructure investment in 2009, with road and rail accounting for nearly half of all infrastructure spending. Schemes like Crossrail, Managed Motorways and the proposed High Speed 2 rail link all reflect the urgent need to improve the UK’s transport network. The problem is, this need seems to be set on a collision course with the inevitable public spending cuts. So what, if anything, will emerge from the wreckage unscathed?
One likely survivor is Crossrail, which is building up a head of steam with work getting going on the stations and the tunnelling contracts out to tender. The future of this vast project looks more assured by the day as it becomes increasingly expensive to cancel. The three tunnelling contracts are up for grabs and bidders for these have everything to play for, as our feature on page eight shows. Once the successful bidders break ground there is no going back and future governments will have to see the project through.
Money has also been committed to other parts of the rail network, including electrifying the Great Western Main Line between London and Bristol. The great unknown is still the high-speed rail link between London and the North. Although Labour has just announced the route, the Tories have their own ideas about this. Given that both parties agree in principle to the concept, it would be a pity if these disagreements mean a repeat performance of the 20-year lead-in time for Crossrail, especially as it adds up to £30bn of work.
On the roads, the Highways Agency has just announced the winning bidders for the first round of Managed Motorways schemes, which will increase capacity by 30% by allowing hard shoulder running. Elsewhere, the roads are quiet and, given the environmental agenda, will remain so, irrespective of who wins the election.
Once the successful bidders break ground on Crossrail, there is no going back
Aviation, meanwhile, is totally dependent on the election outcome, with the Tories opposed to Labour’s runway expansion plans. Still, BAA is spending £4.8bn to improve existing facilities at Heathrow between now and 2014 – and just this week it agreed its largest ever single construction package with Ferrovial Agroman and Laing O’Rourke to build the new Terminal 2.
What does seem certain is that there isn’t going to be enough work in the UK to sustain everyone, so companies are going to have to look overseas. The Middle East has woken up to the need for decent transport links, with extensive rail building in countries like Saudi Arabia and talk of railway lines linking all the Gulf Co-operation Council states. For those prepared to head further east, KPMG reckons there is going to be an infrastructure boom in South-east Asia. It forecasts transport infrastructure investment will grow by 3.5% a year over the next five years, reaching $32bn in 2014. Some 80% of this work will be concentrated in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. There is a catch, but one that might play into British hands: these countries aren’t flush with cash, so the work will be in the form of PPPs – which could provide opportunities for UK companies well versed in the intricacies of such procurement models.
The recurring theme, of course, is that money is short, and with that in mind, perhaps we could all learn a lot from the upgrade of the East London line. Transport for London is creating a new line ringing London by adding a few miles of new track to existing lines and upgrading the rolling stock and signalling to create what is in effect a completely new railway. The first section opens in May and the contracts for the second phase are currently up for grabs. A lesson for our times perhaps?
Thomas Lane, assistant editor (technical), Building