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The escalator challenge

Author: Tim Weihen, section engineer

Every infrastructure project comes with its own unique set of challenges and specific site characteristics, which is why variety is never in short supply when it comes to being an engineer.

That is certainly the case for the work I am currently overseeing at Bond Street station which forms part of the Crossrail project and the construction of the Elizabeth line - London’s newest railway.

When complete, the new line will stop at 41 accessible stations, 10 newly built and 31 newly upgraded, and is expected to serve around 200 million people each year. It is the subject of the third series of “The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway”, a BBC documentary which focuses on the enormous engineering feat which is being delivered underground in London.


Sept 18 progress of Crossrail Bond Street Escaltors
September 2018 progress photo of Bond Street escalators. Photo courtesy of Transport for London/Crossrail.

My specific role - which is covered in the documentary - has been around installing the new escalators at Bond Street with the help of smart infrastructure solutions. They are the biggest on Crossrail and the second largest across the Transport for London (TfL) network.

With a challenge like this, there is no off-the-shelf approach and intense preparation is crucial and starts with a figurative “blank sheet of paper”. The preparation planning for these escalators took around six months in total and covered every possible aspect of the project.

Bond Street is located in a very busy part of the capital and is a place where people live and work. It is critical to be conscious of the community that’s there and mindful that even the slightest disruption impacts people’s lives and livelihoods.

With that in mind, nothing could be stored on site for the escalator installation - everything needed to arrive just in time to be installed. We devised a plan which ensured every delivery was sequenced correctly, arriving at the right place at the right time. Shift patterns needed to align with the logistics and also comply with the conditions set down by Westminster Council.

From there we moved into the installation. The escalator delivery teams worked on rotation on 24-hour-a-day shifts, six days a week. In order for that to be efficient and effective, the briefing and handover process for teams exiting and entering the project has been critical and needed to be managed carefully. The documentary shows the meticulous process and engineering methods for getting the escalators into place. Precision is everything - nothing can be out of place. Smart infrastructure technology, such as the 3D model, had a central role to play in ensuring everyone was able to work efficiently. The 3D model in particular was a very powerful and detailed tool that allowed us to semi ‘simulate’ the installation process, which helped to reduce the likelihood of clashes onsite.

For me personally, this project has been nothing like I have experienced before in terms of scale, complexity and on-the-ground challenges from the location involved. However, as a process it was incredibly smooth and enormously rewarding as a result. My role was to oversee a part of a much bigger jigsaw but everything has had to work in collaboration, particularly working with Otis who manufactured the escalators and installed them.

This documentary provides access behind the scenes of what goes into delivering London’s newest railway and how we provide smart infrastructure solutions for enormous infrastructure projects such as Crossrail. It shows the activity unfolding unseen under the streets of one of the world’s busiest cities. Also as a native Australian, it will be a chance for friends and family back home to see what I have been up to on the other side of the world these past 12 months.