Crossrail: embracing BIM for construction

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As Crossrail’s Tier 1 contractors prepare for major work, Bentley Systems has been brought on board as part of the supply chain to help the £15.9bn project transition into the construction phase.

As any Londoner will tell you travelling on a packed Central line tube in rush hour is not an experience to relish. The capital is crying out for a major new transport link to ease east-west congestion and Crossrail is answering that call.

Crossrail’s world-class metro style service will carry over 200 million passengers per year. With 42km of new tunnels, 37 stations, eight new sub surface stations the scale of the project is huge. With a budget of £15.9bn it is Europe’s biggest construction project. An incredible 14,000 people will be needed by its supply chain at the peak of construction.

Computer rendering of the new Whitechapel Crossrail Station

BIM beyond design

Managing a project of this size is a major challenge, and Building Information Modelling (BIM) is playing a major role.

“What I’m looking for Crossrail is a single BIM model that connects the start right the way through to the end,” said Crossrail chief executive, Andrew Wolstenholme. “As an industry we’re not very good at this. The as-designed versus the as-built versus the as-maintained tends to be on different platforms.

“[By linking these technology sets up] we have one continuous set of the truth, the right answer, in a single format that we can pass seamlessly through eventually to the operator.”

Crossrail’s integrated project team standardised on software from Bentley Systems from the very beginning. The software is used to contribute to a fully co-ordinated 3D model and the distributed project team is connected across multiple locations by Bentley’s ProjectWise collaboration platform with BS1192, the British standard for collaborative production of information.


With Crosrail now moving into the main construction phase the project is throwing up a whole new set of challenges. From a BIM perspective this includes how to get the various contractors to collaboratively contribute to information modelling and business processes.

To help bring the contractors on board Bentley has been appointed a Crossrail partner for construction enterprise and has become part of the supply chain, a much more integrated function than that of a traditional supplier of software.

In its new role, Bentley has put together some key initiatives to help support Crossrail’s transition into the construction phase. Bentley’s chief executive officer, Greg Bentley, communicated these proposals to Crossrail’s Tier 1 contractors earlier this year at Bentley’s UK headquarters in London.

Mr Bentley explained how Crossrail’s Enterprise License Subscription (ELS) will be broadened to serve its Tier 1 contractors — giving them controlled access to the full portfolio of Bentley software.

Access to the software will be provided through Bentley’s ‘select server’ and each supplier will be given a ‘key’ so usage can be tracked by Crossrail. Mr Bentley said that in some cases Crossrail will provide machines with pre-loaded software.

Mr Bentley was clear that contractors will not have to purchase any software licenses adding that “Crossrail sees the advantage to the project of using that software.”

Access to a standard set of tools is only one challenge, however, as Mr Wolstenholme explained, “BIM is not simply about the application of new software — it’s about a different way of working.

Crossrail facts and figures

  • At £, Crossrail is Europe’s biggest construction project.
  • Crossrail services will commence on the central section by 2018.
  • Around 200 million passengers will travel on Crossrail each year and it will expand London’s rail network capacity by 10 percent.
  • New Crossrail stations are being built at Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street, Whitechapel, Canary Wharf, Custom House and Woolwich.
  • 42km of bored tunnels will weave their way between existing underground lines, sewers, utility tunnels and building foundations at depths of up to 40m.
  • Each Crossrail train will be 200 metres long and will accommodate up to 1,500 passengers.
  • Up to 24 trains will run per hour between Paddington and Whitechapel during peak times.

“If we are to take advantage of the opportunity BIM offers the programme, and our contractor organisations, we need to collaborate closely with our supply chains to make it happen.”

Crossrail will start by expanding the reach of Bentley’s ProjectWise collaboration platform with BS1192. Tier 1 suppliers will be given access to Crossrail’s ProjectWise environment with caching servers used to solve large file problems.

Supporting the use of Bentley software through the Crossrail construction phase will also require significant investment in training. Bentley will work with Crossrail to create content for classroom workshops, which can be hosted at Bentley’s UK headquarters or locally. The Tier 1 supply chain will also be offered the benefits of Crossrail’s Enterprise License Subscription with Bentley, which includes unlimited learning through virtual classrooms.

New opportunities

An added benefit for Bentley of working with the Crossrail supply chain is the opportunity presented to expand its relationship with many of the industry’s leading contractors.

Mr Bentley explained how Crossrail contractors will be offered Bentley software, specifically ProjectWise, for use on their own projects for collaboration, work sharing and engineering content management. ProjectWise could be run on local servers or put entirely in the cloud, he said.

Mr Bentley confirmed the preferential discount and subscription terms offered to Crossrail would be extended, but the usage would not be tracked by Crossrail.

Bentley is also setting up a new BIM academy at its London headquarters, where it will invite contractors to discover and share ideas on Bentley technology. Technology pods will showcase a variety of new software and hardware including tools for mobile devices such as the iPad, intelligent digital pens, and laser scanning, a technology he sees playing a major role in the Crossrail project.

A legacy for industry

With a clear strategy in place for how to integrate BIM into the supply chain through the delivery phases, the next major challenge for Crossrail will be how to manage the handover to Rail for London.

Mr Wolstenholme sees this as a huge opportunity. “Infrastructure projects of the scale and complexity of Crossrail do not come around very frequently,” he said. “I want to use the Crossrail opportunity to move the whole industry forward in a number of areas which includes the use of BIM through the delivery and lifecycle phases of major projects.

“The real prize for me is to move the industry boundary as to how you manage the assets using digital technology,” he said.

Beyond the legacy of Crossrail itself, Mr Wolstenholme believes the project will become a “legacy of capability” for industry. He sees it playing an important role in the input for High Speed 2 [the new UK high speed rail network] and, in the future, maybe even for Cross Rail 2 and an aviation transport hub in the east of London. /


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