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Preparing the ground for HS2

28 Feb 18 Earthmoving contractors and plant suppliers are poised for a surge in demand from HS2. David Taylor reports

More than 50% of the Phase 1 route will be in tunnels or cuttings
More than 50% of the Phase 1 route will be in tunnels or cuttings

The award of £6.6bn-worth of main contracts last summer started the ball rolling on the HS2 construction bonanza.

Last month also saw almost £2bn-worth of M&E contracts going out to tender and contracts for the station design being awarded to Arup and WSP.

The supply chain is now straining at the leash as the HS2 consortia prepare to let the first Phase 1 subcontract packages and, inevitably, among the first to be let will be the earthmoving contracts.

People in the earthmoving and construction plant industries have been keeping a close eye on HS2 since before the government’s hybrid Bill, giving HS2 the go-ahead, was published.In 2015, HS2 procurement boss John Carroll outlined the scheme’s earthmoving requirement to an eager conference of the Construction Plant-hire Association.

HS2’s “route-wide mass haul movement plan” anticipated 55 million cubic metres of ‘suitable excavated material moved by transport’ and more than 62 million cubic metres of material excavated in total, said Carroll.

It will be one of Europe’s biggest earthmoving projects for a generation, he added.

At its Brexit Briefing and Market Review conference held in Manchester last November, the Construction Equipment Association (CEA), representing UK construction plant suppliers, outlined the likely demand for earthmoving equipment once the enabling works are completed and construction starts in earnest.

“The amount of construction equipment needed to complete Phase 1 is currently being assessed by the main contractors and it’s estimated that 1,730 machines will be required, which is good news for manufacturers and rental companies,” said Paul Lyons, market information manager with the CEA.

“It is thought that there will be in the region of 636 articulated dump trucks (ADTs) needed to shift 132 million tonnes of excavated material,” he added.

A consortium of plant hirers, called the Connect Alliance, was set up in June 2017 in anticipation of the surge in demand for construction equipment from HS2.

The Connect Alliance is led by A-Plant, L Lynch, P Flannery Plant Hire and Fortel to offer contractors an integrated ‘one-stop shop’ with the latest equipment.

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Other members of the Alliance include Ainscough Crane Hire, Selwood Pumps, MGF Excavation Safety Solutions, Morson Group, BGC and Citrus Training.

Together, the Alliance has an equipment inventory worth around £1.5bn.

Preparation for the earthmoving element of the project has been exhaustive, the ground investigations programme being the largest of its kind ever undertaking in the UK, according to the client.

The programme spans around 8,000 fieldwork locations stretching along the 140 miles of the planned route and around a million laboratory tests have been carried out on the samples taken.

“The ground investigations are de-risking our main works programme and enabling it to be delivered as efficiently as possible,” said an HS2 spokesman. “We’ve already started to share geotechnical data with our main works contractors, informing the upcoming detailed design and construction phases.”

He added: “By understanding what lies beneath our feet, we can deliver the railway in the safest and most efficient way. This ranges form the best methods for excavating tunnels to designing the right foundations for bridges.”

Geotechnical consultants are using the latest technology, such as sonic drilling and ground-penetrating radar, to carry out the ground investigations. Soil, rock, groundwater and contamination are being investigated and recorded at depths of up to 120m.

HS2 says it is also insisting on the provision of the eventual geotechnical data in a best-practice digital AGS4 format:

“Receiving data in this format at the outset makes it much quicker and more efficient to share and check geotechnical information. All of our data is being shared with the British Geological Survey and it will increase the amount of AGS4 data held in their archives by 300%,” said the spokesman.

The scale of the ground investigations reflects the scale of the engineering challenges they are helping to solve. More than 50% of the Phase 1 route will be in a tunnel or cutting. The earthmoving requirement will be unprecedented.

This article was first published in the February 2018 issue of The Construction Index magazine, which you can read for free at

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