With their bids coming in below original estimates, European and Irish contractors grabbed the lion’s share of nearly $2 billion in tunneling contracts to be let so far on London’s $23-billion Crossrail project. The four contracts are the first of nearly 30 that Crossrail officials expect to award in the next 11 months.

Map: Courtesy Crossrail Ltd.
Crossrail Ltd. plans to award 30 contracts in the next year to construct the $23-billion London rail project.

Bids below the original estimates were a positive development for project managers, who are striving to meet a trimmed budget mandated by recent government-enacted austerity measures. To date, an estimated $1.5 billion has been cut from the project’s original $25.3-billion budget, ensuring the project survives the U.K. government’s tough austerity drive, say officials. Value engineering and rescheduling of shaft and tunnel work contributed to the budget savings, says a spokesman with Crossrail Ltd., part of Transport for London. The changes will delay completion of the central section to 2018 from 2017. Crossrail still has to trim over $600 million to meet the government’s $23-billion budget target.

The new contracts represent “a significant milestone,” according to a statement from Rob Holden, Crossrail’s chief executive. After two years on the job, Holden this month unexpectedly announced his plan to retire. “Crossrail needs a chief executive who can commit to lead right through to opening in 2018,” he stated. Holden previously led construction of the High Speed 1 railroad from London to the Channel Tunnel.

Project officials say tunnel boring should start in spring 2012, when contractors begin using the first two of seven planned tunnel-boring machines for the six-meter-dia tunnels that will link regions east and west of the capital. The new contracts cover 18 kilometers of the line’s 21 km of twin-bore tunnels through the city.

Among the new packages, a 6.2-km section of western twin tunnels, from Royal Oak to Farringdon, went to a joint venture of Dutch-owned BAM Nuttall Ltd., Spain’s Ferrovial Agroman (U.K.) Ltd. and locally based Kier Construction Ltd. The same team won a separate contract for access shafts and tunnels at the Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road stations. Crossrail Ltd., the project’s sponsor, will combine these two contracts into one worth about $790 million.

The Irish Republic’s John Sisk & Son (Holdings) Ltd., with the Spanish contractor Dragados S.A., won the roughly $800-million contract for 11.9 km of eastern tunnels from Farringdon to the Limmo Peninsula. Shaft and station tunnel construction worth $370 million at the Whitechapel and Liverpool Street stations will be done by a joint venture of Austria-based Alpine BeMo Tunnelling GmbH., with Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering Ltd. and Morgan Sindall (Infrastructure) plc., both base in the U.K., plus France’s Vinci Construction Grands Projets.

Planning the tunnels to minimize disturbance to buildings and utilities has been the biggest challenge for the design team, notes Peter Chamley, project director with Arup Group Ltd., London. A joint venture of Arup with W.S. Atkins plc., London, is designing the western tunnels. More tunnel contracts will be awarded later this year, including the line’s sole River Thames crossing.