CA Blackwells on the challenges of delivering HS2


Niall Fraser of specialist earthworks and construction contractor, C A Blackwell (Contracts) Ltd.
In issue five of Finning News, our ‘Mine in a Line’ article looked at the scale of the HS2 project, which will see 60 million cubic metres of earth processed by a fleet of plant and equipment.

To find out more about the earthworks delivery for the project and the type of equipment that may be used, we caught up with Niall Fraser of specialist earthworks and construction contractor, C A Blackwell (Contracts) Ltd.

Niall – “HS2 is going to be a huge challenge for the construction and plant industries. It will be the largest programme of earthmoving for an infrastructure project in the UK since the completion of the motorway network in the 1980s.

“So from a UK earthworks sector perspective, there will need to be significant expansion and investment if we are to meet the timescales of HS2. By already outlining the scale of the project, the HS2 team has given the market the information it needs to digest and act upon, including the amount of earth to be moved and the increase in capacity needed.

“It is therefore now time for contractors and plant manufacturers to engage with HS2 to support the delivery of the increased capacity needed. We all know that early engagement on any project always improves the outcome, so fundamentally the three key areas we need to look at are, the provision of the right type of equipment, the training and recruitment of skilled people and the adoption of innovative technology solutions.

On the equipment front, it is all about deciding what type of plant mix will be the most effective. The favoured articulated truck and excavator combination is probably what we will see delivering the bulk of works, but when you look at some sections of the project, there is an argument to bring back the motor scraper.

“This in itself would be a major step change, as motor scrapers on large projects in the UK have long been assigned to history. However, we have to look at the most efficient and cost effective way of delivering HS2. So if the motor scraper numbers stack up, then we could be looking at a major shift in equipment need, which in-turn would have to be communicated to the supply chain, in time for such units to be manufactured.

“Whereas manufacturing capacity can be ramped up in time, the real issue lies in the huge skills gap of highly trained operators and just as importantly, the experienced earthworks managers that the HS2 project will need. There is a great opportunity here for skilled job creation, which would have a really positive legacy for the industry. However, if these individuals can’t be found and trained, we will have to look outside the UK to bring this talent in.

“One way or another, we will have to get the skilled people required for this project, so the final part of the planning jigsaw is probably the most important. This has to be a technology driven project, using advanced highly efficient equipment, which can be operated and managed effectively.

So what we all need to think about is how we connect the plant and people together, how we deliver a traceable and environmentally sustainable solution and how we create a lasting legacy for the future of earthworks in the UK. The clock is ticking, so it is time to make the HS2 decision, are you ready to be part of this game-changing project?