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As an engineering challenge, the Great Western Railway Route Modernisation project was a tough one: introduce new trains, signaling, electrification, and other improvements to more than 1000 kilometers of pre-existing train track between London, England, and Cardiff, Wales. Modernizing the route would cost more than £5 billion—but the real challenge would be adding more trains and increasing speeds, all while retaining the same infrastructure and meeting new European standards for interoperability. Interoperability was a keyword, not just in terms of rail systems, but in terms of the teams responsible for ensuring that such a large project went off without a hitch. “Collaboration is key to high-performing projects,” explains Noel Dolphin of Furrer + Frey. “Using a Building Information Modeling (BIM) approach enabled a huge range of disciplines to connect in a common environment.”
In order for teams in different disciplines to be able to work together, it was imperative that Furrer + Frey’s BIM-based electrification software could integrate with other BIM technologies. There were many interdependencies on the project, from overhead line equipment design to track and station design to signal sighting, among numerous others. Furrer + Frey’s software was able to link into the wider project models and other designs so that impacts and clashes were identified quickly.
By using cloud-based solutions, the project could connect designers in 12 different countries. Interdisciplinary reviews were carried out live in a 3D model, enabling designers and engineers in different fields to communicate in the same visual language. This minimized the time it took to identify risks—and it highlighted potential opportunities.
Risk was a critical notion on the project. Electrifying the rails would create faster, quieter, and greener rides. And Furrer + Frey’s electrification software combined with other BIM technologies could help to minimize any dangers. The 3D models could isolate overhead wires at high-risk areas during the assessment of electrical clearance. The models could also be used to check the visibility of safety-critical signals from the train operator’s viewpoint. The software’s ability to use videos to form a 4D environment was especially useful to better ensure a risk-free completion to the project. These simulations allowed the team to visualize construction planning and helped the designers see elements in real time, a process critical to checking train reaction times.
In a very real sense, the Great Western Railway Route Modernisation project relied on one final set of collaborators—British residents. Livability and aesthetic issues were paramount, especially when railways ran directly through the heart of a city. Furrer + Frey used 3D models to show town councils the visual impacts of the electrification and get their feedback to make potential changes. When the project is complete in 2017, it will represent a collaboration in the truest sense, made possible by technological innovation.
Furrer + Frey use BIM to enable international, multi-disciplinary collaboration and to use 4D visualization technology, enhancing safety and reducing risk on U.K. rail project.