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Rail BIM Summit – Looking into the beyond

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Rail Media’s third BIM Summit looked at how the transition into Level 3 BIM would take us further on the digitisation journey towards fully digital businesses where operations and maintenance begin to see the benefits.

Held on 15 February at the offices of Addleshaw Goddard in the City of London, the day was chaired by David Philp of Aecom, who introduced the day by picking out some themes that he expected to emerge from the sessions.

This Summit, he felt, would differ from the earlier ones in that it was going to be about the meaningful use of BIM in practice, and would ‘zoom out’ a little. Finally we would see some real examples of rail BIM developments. Implicit in all this is a move from collaborative working to full integration.

David described some of the BIM journey that brought us to this point and spoke about the Digital Build Britain (DBB) group, of which he is a member. He pointed beyond Level 3 towards Level 4 BIM and thought about what that is likely to entail.

Before introducing the first presentation of the morning, he described the advantages of digitisation. These include the ability to test many more optional scenarios, leading to better decisions and better outcomes. Real-time access to asset information and digital asset performance management will enable this and also permit what he called ‘continuous commissioning’ where asset performance will be tuned real time; predictive, preventive maintenance will become the norm.


The first speaker was Matthew Brett of TfL, who presented ‘How TfL is using BIM’. He gave this the sub-title ‘What effect will this (BIM) have on our suppliers’. For our audience, Matthew focussed on London Underground and DLR.

After some background about the businesses, he went into more detail. A good foundation is essential, in this case meaning excellent asset data. TfL has been applying the principles of BIM requirements for the last 10 years, initially a lot of this was supplier led, but soon TfL began to write requirements into contracts. Matthew described a number of projects that came along this path: Victoria Station Upgrade, Bond Street to Baker Street, Bank and the DLR Framework Renewal.

Since 2015, all projects and contracts have had BIM embedded, with BIM managers for each one. These managers will enable engagement with the maintenance side of the business and ensure the transition of TfL to a digitally driven transport business over the next 10-15 years.

The multiple BIM roles within TfL require the upskilling of the business’ own people, as an example, the supplier on the Bank project is using an internal BIM contractor as a supplier. Internal suppliers as well as external ones thus need to participate in the journey to the fully digitised business. A number of detailed slides in Matthew’s electronic presentation gave more detail.

Matthew summarised; applying BIM is complex, a consistent approach is essential, lessons learned by early adopters must be used, internal suppliers must be expected to get fully involved just like the external ones.


Malcolm Taylor of Crossrail was the next excellent speaker introduced by David. ‘Crossrail: Lessons Learned’ was his topic. After detailing some of the basics of BIM, Malcolm started to describe the lessons he draws from the Crossrail experience.

A defined Client Data Environment (CDE) is an essential contract requirement that suppliers initially found difficult, but they got used to it. The wealth of competing specialist software has been a challenge for IT, but 90 per cent of Crossrail’s data is now held in three interlinked databases, Mapping, 3D Models, and Documentation.

Malcolm described what went well and what did not. It took two to three years to create the CDE, and this was too long. Document control wasn’t applied rigorously enough at the start and the resources required were not appreciated to begin with. Contracts need to incentivise contractors to deliver the specified data, models and manuals on time and to specification.

This includes 3D models, and Crossrail’s experience is that 4D models could have been used more too. For example, Malcolm said installation progress reporting using such models gives benefits in efficiency and effectiveness.

Malcolm ended with a look at the myths and blockers about BIM. It’s not expensive, it is big and complicated but it is not too complex to bother with. Blockers may include software suppliers, consultants and the client organisation, but selecting the right people can resolve that. Design teams need not only the technical and business skills. They also need procurement skills and an understanding of change, the need for it and the means to deliver it.


After a Q&A session with the speakers, Richard White and David Gate of EAMS took the lectern. Between them they gave a presentation entitled ‘Where is this new BIM technology taking us?’.

Their theme was that of whole-life asset management, the cycle plan/design, create/ acquire, operate/maintain, modify/enhance/ replace. They considered where we are today, where we should be and where we could be.

Richard described how, until now, the emphasis has typically been on design and construction (CAPEX), but the need is to get into operations and maintenance (OPEX), as there are considerably greater benefits to be had here.

Richard also mentioned how EAMS is working with HS2 to assist the business in developing its systems and procedures. He then went on to look at where we should be and where we could be. He described the former as BIM Level 2a, and where we could be as BIM Level 3.

‘Technology Demonstration from RED’ was the subject covered by Fraser Pickford and Jon Mercer of Balfour Beatty, a sponsor of the Summit.

RED is Rail Electrification Designer, an easy to use, off-the-shelf software solution developed by Balfour Beatty using their long experience of designing and constructing OHLE. It allows a designer to build a design model for an OHLE project, delivering BIM transparently as an integral part of the process. It runs inside Bentley System’s MicroStation and is configurable for any OHLE design range and any project’s CAD standards.

RED has been tried and tested on the Network Rail NW electrification scheme. It is efficient and lean, promotes quality and simplifies BIM, and produces full data models, 2-D layouts and cross-sections and more.


The morning’s final presentation came from Professor Terrence Fernando of the University of Salford ThinkLab.

After a brief description of ThinkLab and what it does, Terrence described how his team had been approached by Network Rail when they needed a better way to plan track renewal works. Existing methods such as 2D drawings, PowerPoint slides and 4D animations all had drawbacks and could not cope with the complexities of the projects to be managed.

ThinkLab decided to use a time/distance metaphor to specify tasks, and developed a modelling system using BIM data to develop the required plans. Terrence showed a video of Network Rail planners who modelled in a few hours a project that they would have taken perhaps two weeks to plan using traditional methods. Network Rail has successfully applied the system on five sites so far, including their Christmas works at London Euston.

First up after lunch came Johnny Shute, from the Office of Rail & Road (ORR), to talk about ‘Future rail/road developments’.

The ORR vision is zero industry caused fatalities and continual reductions in accidents. The organisation will check compliance and push for excellence in risk management.

What’s the ORR’s interest in BIM? Well, the ORR is interested in engineering out health and safety risks during the design phase. As well as obviating accidents during construction and operation, this will lead to reduced capital costs, lower maintenance costs, greater efficiency and more.

The second presentation of the afternoon came from Eian Stedford of Vinci Construction UK Ltd, speaking about ‘External Viewpoint of BIM Technology now and in the future’.

He began with the question ‘what is BIM?’ A few years ago, he said, there might have been no common idea of the answer, but now there is growing understanding that it is a methodology.

BIM is a whole lifecycle process aimed at ensuring collaboration and co-ordination by using a common engineering data management system (EDMS). Vinci innovated by using a laser scanner from the outset of its Crossrail work. Using this it was able to generate accurate 3D modelling of existing assets and then proposed changes could be introduced into that model.


The final presentation was given by Nick Collier from High Viz Media, another of the sponsors of the Summit. His subject was ‘BIM and Virtual Reality’.

3D rendering of objects can be created from various means, including laser scanning and surveys, but also simply from photographs. Such rendered images have all kinds of uses including VR, and VR can be used for practical applications. In the rail industry, obvious examples are things like signal sighting checks or, to quote a topical one, to check the effectiveness of a driver- only camera system for blind spots.

Nick showed some examples of the use of augmented reality and how it can be used to serve up data in ways that are safer or more useful than conventional methods. An example was the proposed use by IKEA of VR to allow customers to view how furniture might fit into their room before they decide whether to buy it.

The next Rail Media Summit is the Digital Rail Summit planned on 26 April 2017.

Photo: High Viz Media