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Crossrail: Passion for skills

Creating apprenticeships and training opportunities has been a focus of Terry Morgan’s chairmanship of Crossrail and one that will remain firm as the work moves from bored tunnelling to the fit out phase. 

Milestones will be coming thick and fast on Crossrail over the next few months but they will mark a significant change as the project moves from tunnelling to fit out. The bored tunnelling is expected to be completed at the end of April and the first track laying scheduled to start as the April issue of GE went to press.

Crossrail non-executive chairman Terry Morgan is also marking a milestone in his career with Crossrail with a three-year extension of his contract in June that means he will see the scheme through to delivery. When Morgan joined the project in 2009 he had specific aims with regard to the legacy of Crossrail and those ambitions have also recently reached or are on the verge of key landmarks.

Terry Morgan

So far under Terry Morgan’s chairmanship, Crossrail has trained 440 apprentices

“I feel lucky to have been with the programme for six years,” says Morgan on the subject of his re-appointment. “I came out of an executive role [with Tube Lines] but wanted a non-executive role and this is so complimentary to my previous experience.

“I am very lucky, especially as the programme continues to report being on time and within budget – this has added to the enjoyment. 

“However, if someone had decided that it was time for a change then nobody could have ever taken the experience of the last six years away from me but – all being well – I will be here to see the project to its conclusion in 2018.”

When asked for his highlights of the scheme so far, Morgan reels off a long list and concludes that there are too many that are inspiring to select just one.

However, when it comes to the low point of the work, it is clear that there is one event that has had a real impact on Morgan. “As you know, we had a fatality and we worked so hard for that not to happen,” he says. The sadness and regret is clear in the change in Morgan’s voice and his body language. “We clearly felt for the family. It was such as bad moment that we’d killed somebody.”

The inquest opened the day before GE’s interview with Morgan so he could not discuss any detail about his thoughts on why the incident had happened but he said that it is a discovery process. “There are things we can learn from it – and HS2 too,” he said. “There are already things we have learnt and I expect there to be more.

“Understanding how someone got into an exclusion zone is something we still need to know in more detail.”

Morgan is determined that future projects should learn both the positive and negative lessons from Crossrail’s experience in every aspect from safety and construction methods through to training and regeneration. He believes there is much more to Crossrail than just a new transport link. “In 2018 we have to deliver this fantastic new railway but there has always been a determination to create a legacy that was more holistic than just the railway – important though it is – we wanted to do more,” he explains.

Morgan outlines two examples that embody this approach. The first is sustainability, with the development of the bird reserve at Wallasea in Essex from the tunnelling waste, and the other is skills.

“I spend more time on the question around skills,” he says. “We learnt a lot from the Olympics – the delivery team told us what they would have done differently and last week there was an event with HS2 and Crossrail to transfer knowledge of the things we would have done differently.

“In the early days of Crossrail we estimated that we needed 1,200 people with underground construction skills but our analysis five years ago suggested that there were only 700 with that skills set and the average age was 55. London is a market economy and it will find the skills by recruiting overseas but this doesn’t help build up a cadre of skills that will benefit future projects.”

Morgan built the obligation to offer apprenticeships into contracts which was something the Olympics didn’t do, so that for every £3M of contract value the contractor must employ an apprentice or unemployed person.

“The objective was to train 400 apprentices by 2018 and we are already approaching 440,” says Morgan. There are some who will have well exceeded their targets and there are some who haven’t but we will pass that experience on to HS2.”

Morgan has now taken on the chairmanship of the HS2 national college. “What we’ve done on Crossrail is entirely transferable,” he says.

The passion for skills comes from Morgan’s own experience as a 16-year-old school leaver and this summer he will celebrate 50 years since he started his apprenticeship.

“There was a period when I felt like giving up on my drive for vocational skills when the message from government was all around the universal right to go to university and losing – for me – the relationship of what good universities do in preparing young people for life and the world of work,” he says.

“There can be nothing more desperate than coming out of three years of study with a qualification that no one recognises. “There is also the view of some that vocational training is what you do if you’ve failed in academia. That has to change as there are many more people who are gifted around the vocational side that will grow and then choose to go off and undertake some academic education.”

Although he started out in manufacturing, working underground is in Morgan’s blood as his grandfather was a coal miner in South Wales. “I can still remember him coming home with coal dust around his eyes and that in that society he was top dog,” says Morgan. “I’m not sure what he would have made of what we’re doing to be honest. I think he’d be proud, but whether he’d link what he did with what we’re doing today I am not sure as it is very different. I have to say that I am pleased it is called mining.

Crossrail

Breakthrough of the final TBM is expected at the end of April

“Looking at huge TBMs you realise they are miners, especially when they break through into station box and the miners climb through the cutterhead. It is a real community.”

Breakthrough of the final TBM is expected in April and a celebration is being planned to mark this milestone. “We always measured progress on Crossrail in terms of length of tunnel bored,” says Morgan. “We had 42km to construct and today we have reached 40.5km. Two short runs – one TBM sat at Liverpool Street Station then will drive from Moorgate to Farringdon about 750m. The second machine is 500m from Liverpool Street.”

Handover to station box contractors will start over the next six months and the focus will be the demobilisation of construction and getting the systems contractors into place.

“My job will change when we move onto fit out,” says Morgan. “But what won’t change is the number of people working on the scheme.”

At Connaught the refurbished tunnel has already been handed over to the track laying teams, and although Morgan says that there is still a lot of hard work to be done, being able to say that Crossrail is still delivering on time and in budget is a major success for the project.

However, for Morgan personally, it was reaching the apprenticeship targets and regeneration that Crossrail is delivering that is the long-term success story.

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