HS2 opts for slab track and begins search for suppliers

A typical high-speed slab track.

Now that the government has finally approved the construction of HS2 phase 1 (to Birmingham), the procurement process has started to find the specialist contractors that will deliver around 280km of state-of-the-art track for the the UK’s new high-frequency, high-speed line.

Slab track requires less maintenance
than ballasted track..

HS2 has decided that, in order to reduce long-term costs and improve performance, the track will be set onto concrete slabs instead of the ballast commonly used on the UK rail network. This approach – known as slab track – is commonly used on metro systems and some international high-speed rail lines and will allow for a higher frequency of service with less maintenance.

Ballasted track needs to be maintained regularly, with the ballast being replaced every 20 years and needing to be ‘tamped’ – regraded and relevelled – more frequently than that to combat the effect of settling and weather.

Four packages of work are on offer, including for the track for Phase 2a, the extension of HS2 to Crewe where HS2 trains will join the existing West Coast main line. They will cover the design and build of the complex track systems between London, Birmingham and Crewe, and the winners will also take a lead role in managing and coordinating the complex interfaces between the track and other elements of the rail systems.

The four separate track packages, and their estimated values, will be:

  • Lot 1 – Phase One (Urban – London and Birmingham) – £434 million
  • Lot 2 – Phase One (Open Route – Central) – £526 million
  • Lot 3 – Phase One (Open Route -North) – £566 million
  • Lot 4 – Track – Phase 2a – £431 million

Contracts covering rail, switches and crossings and pre-cast slab track systems will be awarded separately – with the track systems suppliers coordinating the design and installation.

The winning bidders will also be responsible for the design, installation and testing of switches and crossings, managing construction logistics and co-ordination, and supporting the testing and commissioning phase. They will also act as Construction Design and Management (CDM) principal contractor for the track and be responsible for logistics and consents co-ordination.

Shortlists for track are expected towards the end of the year, with contract awards in 2022.

David Poole, HS2.

David Poole, HS2’s procurement and commercial director, said: “Rail systems are some of the most important parts of the HS2 project – the high tech equipment and systems that will allow our trains to deliver an unparalleled service in terms of speed, frequency and reliability.

“The launch of this new procurement contest is an important milestone for the project and a significant opportunity for the industry and the wider supply chain. At the peak of construction, HS2 will support around 30,000 jobs and contracts like this will provide a real boost for employers across the supply chain, helping to boost skills and provide opportunities for years to come.”

Six more sets of rail systems contracts are due to be launched later in the year, covering signalling, the overhead catenary that will provide power to the trains, mechanical and electrical systems, high-voltage power supplies, communications systems and the depot and control centre at Washwood Heath in Birmingham.

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