West Rail – Part 6 Project Management

Tymon Mellor: The West Rail project was completed on time and below budget, this was achieved by having a strong management team, experienced construction managers, motivated contractors and efficient project process. Building a large infrastructure project within existing urban environments is not just about the engineering but it is as much about managing all the different competing requirements, in particular the communities impacted by the works. The approaches implemented on West Rail became the template adopted on subsequent major railway projects.

Project Management

With over 100 contracts to administer, the West Rail team of some 800 personnel was divided into three main departments. The Construction Department was responsible for civil works design and construction management, land matters, environmental aspects and construction safety. The Railway Systems Department was responsible for design management, manufacturing, installation, systems integration, testing and commissioning of all railway systems contracts. The Project Support Department was responsible for all support functions including financial, human resources, legal, cost and programme control, procurement, information technology, and public affairs. In addition, a small Operations and Maintenance Section ensured that the ultimate operational and maintenance requirements were catered for throughout the design, construction and commissioning phases.

With the award of the construction and procurement contracts, some 2,000 multi-disciplined, professional, managerial and support staff were engaged on the project along with a peak of approximately 11,000 construction workers.

Construction Workers (1998 Forecast)

The West Rail project support team had to assist these teams while undertaking the major processes and functions necessary to keep the project moving forward. Key to the project success was ensuring that the government departments were kept informed of the proposals and involved with their development where necessary. This approach facilitated endorsement of the engineering solutions and the methodologies being adopted, while the concerns of the communities impacted by the works were recognised through regular engagement and then addressed in a timely manner.

KCRC Project Support Team Responsibilities

An important aspect of the project management approach was the sharing of risks with contractors by way of the general conditions of contract. For example, for work which was in the ground and designed by consultants, the KCRC assumed the risk of unforeseen physical conditions by adopting a remeasured pricing for foundations, instead of including such works in the overall ‘lump sum’ portion of the contracts. This mitigated the contractors’ risks associated with having to estimate the quantum of foundation work at tender stage when site investigation data was incomplete due to land acquisition and access issues at that time. Supplemental agreements were used when work in the ground was substantially complete and the risk had been addressed allowing both parties to take stock of the situation. Using this approach, it was possible to draw a line under the remeasurement process, the impact of unforeseen conditions on progress, and the general impact of the effort on the contractors’ resources in terms of labour and plant. It meant that contractors could determine from each supplemental agreement a clear direction which led to recovery from these negative impacts, thus ensuring that original key dates could be achieved.

To ensure the quality of the management processes, the KCRC was the first transport operator in Asia to obtain a corporate ISO 9001 certification. This was extended to cover the West Rail project design, construction, testing, inspection and commissioning. This required the regular auditing of the West Rail team as well as of contractors and site staff.

KCRC ISO Quality Management Certificates

Government Departments

Before any works could be undertaken, it was necessary to get approval and support from the respective government departments. This was primarily achieved through consultations and the development of impact assessments along with proposals for the respective mitigation measures.

Specific impact assessments were required to identify how the railway impacted:

  • traffic;
  • drainage;
  • marine traffic;
  • blasting;
  • ground movement;
  • hydrology;
  • heritage; and
  • environment.

These discipline base studies were reviewed and endorsed by the relevant government departments and were then included in the broader environmental impact assessment (EIA), published for public consultation by the Environmental Protection Department. For West Rail, the restrictions and conditions imposed on the project arising from the results of the assessment and consultation were then incorporated in to the West Rail Environmental Permit (EP).

Construction Noise Monitoring

Key to compliance with the EP requirements was the need to undertake real time monitoring of key impacts, such as; noise, dust, water discharge, ground settlement and building movement against agreed criteria. The actual readings were then compared to the forecast to ensure the project was meeting its obligations, as well as to anticipate potential adverse impacts on third parties.

For example, all tunnelling will impact the ground in some way, be it a draw-down of the water table or settlement of the ground, there will be an impact. The design of the works and method of construction are influenced by the need to limit the impact and this is then measured through the establishment of limits, trigger values viz. Alert, Alarm, Action or AAA values. West Rail was the first project in Hong Kong to automatically monitor in real time many of these criteria, in particular building movement and ground settlement associated with the deep excavations and tunnels. As noted in the earlier article, ground settlement from the TBM tunnelling operation was less than predicted and within acceptable values. At Nam Cheong Station where a 10m deep excavation was required, there were over 400 monitoring points on the adjacent railway and viaduct structure feeding back to a real-time monitoring system. Excavation of the deep basement and tunnelling below the operational MTR tracks were all undertaken without undue movements.

Automated Settlement Monitoring at Nam Cheong

The majority of the Kowloon and Tai Lam sections of West Rail were constructed underground, whereas the northern section in the New Territories was built on viaduct above ground level. Because the northern works sites collectively occupied large swathes of land, potential construction and permanent operational impacts on surface water drainage were a concern, and so these were addressed in a series of drainage impact assessments for the project.

2001 11 KSR 32

Kam Sheung Road Rural Area (2001)

During the early stages of West Rail construction, Hong Kong experienced an extreme rainfall event causing extensive flooding in many areas, particularly in the New Territories. Several West Rail works sites and adjacent communities were also adversely affected which prompted the establishment of a joint drainage task force by the Drainage Services Department and KCRC as a flood prevention measure for the remainder of construction. The task force implemented a project wide early warning system to alert contractors and site supervision teams of potential adverse weather events so as to implement pre-agreed precautionary measures on site. The task force also established and monitored best practices on site to prevent existing drainage paths and infrastructure from being blocked, particularly where the West Rail works intercepted or were within watercourses, of which there were many. Thankfully, the project works were not affected by flooding again in the years following that earlier extreme event.

In addition to the railway works, there was also the need for broader infrastructure development in conjunction with the railway and government departments used the project to initiate development of community projects such as new transport interchanges and redevelopment of dilapidated areas. In these cases, the works were paid for by the government but were entrusted to and implemented by the West Rail team as either:

  • essential public infrastructure works (EPIW) such as footbridges, roads, subways etc which are needed to support the railway operations;
  • reprovisioning, remedial and improvement works (RRIW) including the relocation of government facilities affected by the project etc.; and
  • enabling works such as foundations for future property etc.

By their very nature, these government works require extensive public consultation as part of the design development stage as well as being subject to their own approvals and statutory processes. On many projects these are the highest risk elements as there is a tendency for late changes that can result in delays and cost overruns, particularly in the case of interface works between adjacent projects in which the scope, timings and sequencing of such works need to be carefully developed and implemented by both parties. By entrusting the government works to KCRC for West Rail, this helped to mitigate such interface risks.

In total 27 items of EPIW were identified by Government along the line with a total value of $3.187 billion[1]. These included; new and modified roads, the Tsuen Wan reclamation and associated culverts, foot and road bridges.

Instrument of Exemption

Unlike commercial developments, West Rail was implemented under the authority of the Railways Ordinance, providing power to acquire land, create rights of way and provide compensation to affected parties for the construction of the new line. Under the provisions of the Ordinance, the Building Authority issued an Instrument of Exemption which exempts KCRC from certain requirements of the Buildings Ordinance, such as the need for the formal submission and approval of drawings and works related permits. This exemption was designed to simplify processes and reduce paperwork, but there was still a need to consult the Buildings Department on these issues but now there was no statutory response time. Hence, seeking endorsement to a proposal was now a programme risk as the Buildings Department could take their time to respond. To provide working structure, target response dates were agreed with BD, but these were non-statutory and sometime missed. What should have simplified matters introduced more risk and needed proactive management to ensure timely approvals. A government liaison team was established by KCRC headed by Peter So. In addition to coordinating the EIPW and RRIW works, he also helped to guide the approvals process through the corridors of power allowing works on site to progress as planned.

Peter So Briefing the KCRC Team (2001)

Independent Checking Engineers

One of the major risks on any project is a failure during the construction stage resulting in a collapse or unsafe environment. To ensure the contractors recognised the risk and had adopted suitable mitigation measures, the design of major temporary works along with the stages of construction were required to be reviewed and endorsed by independent checking engineers (ICE). The original designer and ICE would also review monitoring data to confirm the designs were responding as intended.

DB-350 Underpinning at Chai Wan Kok Bridge near the Tai Lam Tunnel South Portal

Construction Safety

To underline the commitment towards construction safety, the KCRC senior management set targets of zero fatalities and an accident rate comparable with the highest international standards. At the time, Hong Kong’s safety standards were significantly worse than other places, and in the year 2000, the territory had an incident rate of 150 per 1000 workers compared to 40[2] in the UK. Improving the safety culture for the project would require a new multipronged approach.

Steve Howarth, Chief Construction Safety Manager (2002)

Under the direction of Chief Construction Safety Manager, Steve Howarth, a team of highly experienced safety practitioners were mobilised to promote and to ensure construction safety standards were strictly enforced on the sites. The team continuously reviewed and developed the KCRC safety requirements throughout the project term and auditing the contractors’ performance at regular intervals for compliance.

An independent safety auditing scheme was introduced based on the Det Norske Veritas international safety rating system with the results linked to the contractor payment milestones. The scheme graded contractors on a scale of one to seven, with a number of contractors achieving a level seven grading, the highest ever achieved in the Hong Kong construction industry. Prestigious safety awards were presented to contractors for the best or improved records, motivating management to continually improve their safety performance.

Contractors Safety Award (2002)

The overall project safety performance demonstrated that major construction could be implemented in a safe manner and set new standards for Hong Kong. A cumulative accident frequency rate of 1.01 per 100,000 man-hours worked was achieved against a goal of 1.6. The Cumulative Incidence Rate was 28 reportable accidents per 1000 workers, which was significantly better than the Hong Kong construction industry average of 155. (The West Rail’s low incidence rate brought down the industry average.)[3]

West Rail Incident Rate

Hong Kong construction would not be as safe as the West Rail sites until 2016 when the incidence rate dropped to 34.5 incidents per 1000 workers[4].

As part of the emergency planning and preparedness for the project works, a procedure was developed for the management of a major incident on site. This procedure covered any incident that involved the emergency services, affected progress on site or impacted the reputation of the project. Each contract office had a defined Incident Control Room, typically a large meeting room that would be the focus of managing an incident. The room included: contact lists, current drawings and layout plans along with telephone and fax machine.

In the event of an accident or incident, a previously identified incident control team would then be mobilised to control and manage the situation and provide a point of contact for the emergency services. Regular trials with mock incidents were undertaken with the relevant West Rail teams and emergency services to ensure the effective operation of the process. This approach has been adopted on all subsequent major projects.

Quarterly Review Meetings

The West Rail management team fully understood the challenges that had to be addressed during project implementation. Recognising two important elements of good management, early identification of a problem and quick resolution, they encouraged open dialog with stakeholders through what is known as partnering. The benefits of this approach were, the willingness to solve contractor’s problems regardless of who is directly responsible, and exercising the principle of prevention being better than the cure.

Given the multi-party interface nature of the project works, adopting the approach of partnering by separate agreements between contracts was not going to solve many of the issues. Therefore, the approach adopted was to bring together all stakeholders and their representatives together, meeting at three-month intervals, to identify any issues or deviations from plans which were likely to adversely impact on cost, time or quality. The structured nature of these meetings enabled many tasks to be accomplished in the three days set aside. With a total of 19 quarterly review meetings, the results well justified the considerable logistical and individual efforts to make them successful.

Quarterly Review Meeting

Interface Management

At the time of awarding the construction and procurement contracts, the final installation details were not known as they could not be developed until the suppliers prepared their designs. This is further complicated in a multi-contract environment by the need to provide access to many different parties to common areas, each having different access needs and access conditions. On many projects, a poor understanding of the needs of involved parties has resulted in delays, abortive work and additional costs.

To resolve this problem, the West Rail team established a common set of interface management obligations in all contracts, and developed the idea of an interface specification in this regard. This part of the contract documents identified the major interfaces between packages and provided a frame work for the different contractors to work together to identify and resolve the interfaces through the development of an interface management plan and detailed interface document. This process was so successful that it was adopted on all subsequent railway projects in Hong Kong and also outside the territory.

The Cultural and Social Aspects

For the implementation of any major infrastructure project, the cultural and social aspects of the project have to be taken into account from the initial planning stage. This was especially important for West Rail as the line would cut through urban centres, as well as culturally and environmentally sensitive areas in the rural New Territories.

Siu Hong Station (2001)

West Rail as a public transportation project was well supported by the community. However, significant effort was still required to address community concerns relating to impacts such as land resumption and traffic diversions required for the construction works, as well as dealing with objections to noise nuisance, shifting of the alignment, naming of stations, etc. Apart from being very vocal and vociferous, some communal resistance elements were very well-organised and highly politicised. If not handled sensitively and effectively, such resistance and pressure might lead to serious delays to the project, in addition to adverse publicity. Hence, community relations had an important role to play in project management. It was of vital importance to establish and sustain a harmonious relation with the community such that the project could proceed smoothly according to programme.

A comprehensive community impact assessment had been conducted during the inception stage so that all the potential community concerns and problems could be catered for, as far as possible, and in a practicable manner during the early design stage. It was recognised that not all the community impact issues could be identified prior to actual construction and many unexpected issues manifested themselves subsequently. Adopting a preventive and proactive attitude helped to reduce considerably many of the potential troubles.

Community Engagement (2003)

Respect for traditional beliefs and culture of the indigenous villagers was a must for the project, especially in the rural New Territories. In order to respect Fung Shui beliefs, a total of 19 Pai Laus (ornamental / ceremonial gates) and a Fung Shui Pavilion were built along the West Rail corridor, as well as relocating a Fung Shui well and reprovisioning of many Fung Shui trees. For other Fung Shui cases which could not be resolved by these options, engineering and technical solutions were required. The railway alignment was developed to minimise the impact on burial grounds and a village shrine required a redesign of a station structure.

An early example in 1997 occurred when undertaking the site investigation work for the long Tai Lam Tunnel. Consultation had been undertaken with the local villages in the presence of the District Officer to allow access to the hillside in the general area of existing graves. However, following the mobilisation of the drilling rigs to site and the commencement of drilling, there was uproar as the villagers accused the contractor of drilling into the eye of the dragon who guarded the graves and this had brought bad “feng shui” on the village and its occupants. Demands for financial compensation were also made. Further works were placed on hold until the situation was resolved. A meeting was called with the respective village heads, the District Officer, some very concerned villagers and the drilling contractor. After, at times a heated discussion, it was agreed and documented that every effort would be made to appease a very angry dragon including contributions to the upkeep and protection of the hillside graves. The works were then allowed to proceed.

A Pai Lau at Pat Heung Village

Comprehensive pre-construction condition surveys were conducted to cover all existing properties, facilities and structures within close proximity to the works; recording all existing defects, with photographic records taken and dated. This base line survey facilitated the subsequent handling of third-party claims for compensation for cracks and other types of damage.

In order to enlist the support of the community for the West Rail project, community briefings, media briefings, school talks and exhibitions were held regularly to keep the community updated on the development of the project. To maintain close dialogue with residents along the alignment, community liaison offices were set up to provide a one-stop rapid response facility for complaints and enquiries. A 24-hour complaint and enquiry hotline was operated on West Rail and working groups with local representatives were set up to deal with specific issues, as and when required.

West Rail Community Liaison Office

Land Acquisition

The Government was responsible for the resumption of the required private land lots and handing them over to KCRC in phases from February 1999 onwards, most of them being abandoned agricultural land. Land clearance for West Rail’s rural section was successfully completed in mid-1999 by the Lands and Housing Departments with the support of other government departments and the West Rail team. A total of 217ha of land, involving about 1,200 private lots, was resumed in eleven operations which started from February 1999 and ended in mid-June. Over 3,000 structures and about 330 graves were also cleared. Re-housing of affected families, involving about 1,500 persons from 589 families, was successfully arranged by the Housing Department. Once the land was handed to the site teams, site clearance work and hoarding around the works areas could commence. A total of HK$8bn was spent on private land acquisition representing about a quarter of the total land needed for the project, with the remaining three quarters being government land.

Environment and Ecology

On 23 March 1998, the final report of the Environmental Impact Assessment on West Rail was endorsed by the Advisory Council on the Environment. An independent checker was also appointed by KCRC, to conduct regular environmental performance audits of the work performed by works contractors, in order to ensure that all essential mitigation measures were in place prior to the commencement of works. The independent checker conducted regular site audits and inspections to check the site conditions, the status of the mitigation measures, and to review the environmental performance against the conditions set out in the Environmental Permit issued by the Environmental Protection Department. During construction, baseline monitoring and impact monitoring was conducted on air, noise and water quality at specified locations, and the data was compiled into a report and verified by the independent environmental checker.

Wetland Habitat

In order to mitigate the loss of 12ha of wetland habitat, 8.5ha of high-quality wetland was created along with long-term management to defined conservation objectives. Strict control practices were implemented to minimise potential disturbance during the construction phase to the Painted Snipe roosting site near Kam Tin Road. The construction of a Habitat Compensation Area in Kam Tin and Pat Heung commenced in October 2001 in order to re-create a wetland for rare species of birds, frogs and other creatures. The Habitat Compensation Area covered the length of the railway easement corridor and adjacent land near the abandoned Kam Tim River meanders, as well as a land parcel located at the northern portal of the Tai Lam Tunnel. Totalling 12ha, the area provided breeding, nesting and foraging habitats for some rare or protected species of birds and creatures, such as egrets, herons, painted snipe and the narrow-mouthed frog.

Risk Management

Tunnelling works in the mid-1990s had a poor reputation as there had been a number of notable contemporary incidents, including the failure at Heathrow in the UK during construction of the Heathrow Express railway in October 1994. The international insurance industry was concerned that insufficient attention was being paid to risk management on major projects and that where it was undertaken, the approaches were inconsistent[5]. Recognising these concerns, KCRC implemented a project wide risk management programme to ensure that within the multi-contact nature of the project works, risk would not be lost at the interfaces in terms of responsibilities. Regular workshops were held by the contractors to identify risks and their mitigation, compiled in to registers which were used to identify the major project risks and to ensure they received the appropriate attention.

This approach was formally captured in a new code of practice, issued in 2003[6] and then adopted by the Government in June 2005 with the issuance of the ‘Risk Management for Public Works’ manual. The approach went on to be used on all subsequent major projects.

Systematic Risk Management Process

In keeping with the risk management philosophy, the West Rail team decided to procure an owner-controlled insurance policy covering contractor’s all risks and third-party legal liability for the project contractors. Adopting an owner’s provided insurance was an unusual approach, as typically individual contractors would provide all insurances. However, given the scale and complexity of West Rail an owner procured policy provided a number of advantages:

  • Negotiation for a project wide policy was more effective than multiple smaller policies and would minimise the overall premium and project cost;
  • A project wide approach removed the difficulties associated with interface claims; and
  • A single team could administer all claims.

The project wide approach would also allow the insurers to take an active role in the project, paying attention to high-risk activities and sharing mitigation experiences.



  1. Item For Public Works Subcommittee Of Finance Committee, PWSC(1999-2000)14, 12 May 1999

2. Health and safety at work, Summary statistics for Great Britain 2022, HSE

3. Presentation to LegCo Transport Panel Subcommittee on Matters Relating to the Implementation of Railway Development Projects, Jul 2001

4. Occupational Safety and Health Statistics Bulletin Issue No. 22 (August 2022), Labour Department

5. Guidelines for tunnelling risk management: International Tunnelling Association, Working Group No. 2, ITA, 2004

6. ‘The Joint Code of Practice for Risk Management of Tunnel Works in the UK’ which was prepared jointly by the British Tunnelling Society and the Association of British Insurers and published by the British Tunnelling Society in September 2003

This article was first posted on 16th September 2023.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. West Rail – Part 1 In the Beginning
  2. West Rail – Part 2 Detailed Feasibility Study
  3. West Rail – Part 3 Technical Studies
  4. West Rail – Part 4 Detailed Design
  5. West Rail – Part 5 Construction – Southern Section


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *