Critical Path Analysis at Network Rail
Planning a major project is an exciting and challenging activity. This case study focuses on the planning that went into repairing Network Rail’s Leven Viaduct situated in Cumbria. Any major engineering project requires planning for: • the activities that need to be completed • the sequencing of these activities • the timing of the start and completion of these activities • budgeting of costs involved. Built in 1857, the Leven Viaduct on the Cumbrian coast has been a vital rail link between the North and South. At almost 500 metres long the viaduct was a major engineering project when first built. Even today its reconstruction presented Network Rail with a huge challenge. Through careful planning the project was completed in 16 weeks – half the time originally anticipated. The project was required because heavy seas, corrosive salt water and heavy use meant that the viaduct was wearing out and would become unsafe. There were two main options: 1. repair the viaduct 2. close down the line and re-route all traffic on to an alternative line. At the heart of the decision-making was the need to look at the costs of the two alternatives. • Option 1 was costly – estimated at £20 million, plus the ongoing cost of maintaining the line. • Option 2 would however overload the West Coast main line. This would lead to delays on a very important route – from Glasgow to London. It therefore made sense to repair the viaduct.
CURRICULUM TOPICS • Stakeholders • Resources and assistance for a business • Planning, controlling and reporting • Methods of production
GLOSSARY Operations: the integration of processes within a business, in order to deliver and satisfy customer needs. Budget: planning for the future using numbers. These numbers relate to such totals as expected costs. The budgeted figures are related to specific time periods. Critical success factors: the essential areas of activity that must be performed well if you are to achieve the mission, objectives or goals for your business or project. Procurement: the process of acquiring supplies of raw materials, parts or products.
A plan of operations is required to see a project through from start to finish. An important starting point is to set out your objectives so that you know where you are going. Key objectives for the Leven Viaduct project were to develop and implement a solution that would: • require no major maintenance for 25 years • remove any risk of line closure due to structural problems. Engineers had to work out what was possible within a given budget and time constraints. For example, they had to consider the types of materials and fittings to use. They had to liaise with users of the rail line. This involved discussions with passengers and with companies which used the line to send freight. It also involved talking to the local community and environmental groups. In creating the plan a number of critical success factors were identified. These were: • to deliver the project within a given budget • to have no accidents or incidents during viaduct construction • to establish good relationships with the community and to respect the local environment • to ensure the efficient procurement of the steel that was essential to the project to minimise disruption to passengers and freight. If Network Rail did not achieve one or more of these factors, it could have resulted in negative publicity and cost in production time or even legal action.
The project involved huge tasks. The existing brickwork of the piers, or columns, which support the viaduct had to be repaired. The existing rails and decking needed to be taken up and replaced. This was a £14 million investment requiring: • the use of 3,500 tonnes of steelwork - this took nearly six months to produce • the replacement of 1,100 metres of track - if all the steel units and rails were laid end-to-end, it would stretch for nearly five kilometres • 2,000 m2 of brickwork repairs to the piers - similar to the size of a football pitch. A number of key issues and risks had to be considered in creating plans, such as delays resulting from bad weather and environmental considerations.
1.Weather Bad weather, such as strong winds could cause delays. High winds could blow workers off the viaduct.
2.Health and Safety If workers fell off the viaduct a hovercraft would be needed to rescue them.
5.Steel procurement The steel had to be made to order rather than buying existing stocks of steel. Steel procurement was 40% of all costs.
Key issues and risks in creating the plan
3.Environmental There were a range of factors to consider such as conservation areas, and wildlife habitat such as birds nesting.
4.Passenger disruption It was necessary to minimise the time the line was closed.
Roles within the organisation
Network Rail owns and operates Britain’s rail infrastructure. The company strives to provide Britain with a safe, reliable and efficient railway fit for the 21st century. The company provides an excellent career structure with interesting work as shown by the Leven Viaduct project. A number of different roles were involved in planning and carrying out the project. Some of these were internal to Network Rail. Other roles involved bringing in external specialists. Internal roles Project managers Project planners Commercial programme controllers Project engineers are responsible for managing the project from start to finish. They co-ordinate the work of the other specialists. interpret the cost and programme information from other team members and produce the programme. are responsible for the commercial arrangements between Network Rail and suppliers. have the technical expertise. They are able to identify the best ways of constructing the viaduct and rail line. They know about the properties of materials and what equipment is best for each job. work on site during the construction project. They work with contractors to make sure that everything is being done as planned and is safe.
External roles Civil/design engineers Design/build contractors carry out studies into what is feasible. They look at alternative solutions and draft the tender documents. develop a final design and specification of the work to be carried out. This is approved by Network Rail. The contractors then carry out the work of re-furbishing the viaduct.
Co-ordinating people via Critical Path Analysis
Major construction projects involve a lot of separate steps. For example, in constructing the viaduct, the 96 pre-fabricated metal decks which made up the main structure of the viaduct were specially made off-site and transported by rail from Ulverston. Some activities in a project can be carried out simultaneously - for example, while the metal decks were being made, the piers supporting the viaduct were repaired at the same time. Other activities need to be carried out in a sequence, for example, you can’t lay the new rail track before the old track has been taken up. We say such activities are ‘dependent’ upon the completion of the previous one. Critical Path Analysis involves setting out a diagram showing all of the activities involved in a particular project and how they relate to each other. The following network diagram shows the main sequence of activities involved in carrying out the project. www.thetimes100.co.uk
GLOSSARY Critical Path Analysis: a method of analysing the stages and sequence of activities in a project. The Critical Path involves activities that must be completed on time. Latest Finish Time: the latest time that an activity must finish by if it is not to delay the next stage in the project. To find the LFT, work back from right to left across your diagram. Subtract the time required to carry out an activity from the finishing time in the node to the immediate right of the activity.
Carry out survey (3 months)
Create design (1 month)
Steelwork fabrication (4 months)
Prepare site (2 months)
Construction work (6 months)
Start (contract awarded)
It would be too complicated to show all of the steps in the construction of the viaduct because there were so many operations involved. However, the process can be illustrated by taking an example of part of the process. This is shown in more detail below. In order to simplify this we shall assume that: A - This part of the process starts with the fabrication of the steel which is expected to take four months. B - This is followed by site preparation which takes two months. This is dependent upon activity A. C & D - After site preparation the walkways can be built (two months) followed by the decks (two months). Activity C is dependent upon activity B and activity D is dependent upon activity C. E - While the walkways and decks are being built the piers can be repaired (which is expected to take five months).This means that activity E is dependent upon activities A and B. This is illustrated in a new network diagram below: • The circles in the diagram are called nodes. They show the start or finish of a task. The nodes are split into three sections. In the left hand semi-circle the node number is written. • The number in the top right is the earliest starting time (EST). This shows the earliest time the next activity can start. • The number on the bottom right is the latest finishing time (LFT). This is the latest that the previous task can finish without delaying the next task. Arrows show the order in which activities take place. For example, in the diagram the earliest activity B (preparing the site) can take place is after 4 months, when the steel is ready. The earliest that pier repairs can start is after 6 months, when the site is prepared, etc.
C construct walkway 2 months A fabrication B prepare site
D construct deck 2 months
E pier repairs 5 months
0 1 0
4 2 4
The next step is to set out the critical path. Critical activities are those which most urgently need to be completed on time to ensure the whole project is not delayed. www.thetimes100.co.uk For example, if the pre-fabricated steel did not arrive on time then this would be a serious problem. This shows how important the role of a good Project Manager is. We can illustrate the critical path by highlighting it in red through the arrows on the diagram. This joins up the sequence of activities that will take the longest. The critical path can also be indicated by drawing two parallel lines (shown in blue) across the arrows between nodes. In this case the critical path is through the activities A, B and E. This is because E takes five months whereas C and D together are only expected to take four months. Site managers and contractors must pay particular attention to E (pier repairs) if the whole project is not to fall behind schedule. Network Rail’s Leven Viaduct engineers were dealing with a project which involved hundreds of separate processes. They used spreadsheets and computer models to give them a detailed picture of all of the stages involved. Every day they kept a close eye on where the project had got to. This enabled them to put in extra resources whenever there was a delay, particularly along the critical path.
Advantages and disadvantages of Critical Path Analysis
Critical Path Analysis is a very useful tool for Project Managers. It helps them to focus on the key activities of a project and how they all fit together. Project Managers and site managers can then allocate resources to critical activities. These are ones that require extra consideration to make sure that everything runs smoothly. The Leven Viaduct planners created a spreadsheet which identified the budgeted costs of each of the steps involved in their project. As a result they were aware at all times of the cost implications of each stage of the project, and the importance of getting each step in the sequence finished on time. Delays can add extra costs to a project and can involve financial penalties for being late. Critical Path Analysis is a very detailed process. However, the time spent in putting the plan together was well worth it. Careful planning meant the project ran smoothly which led to cost and time savings later on. At the same time, Network Rail was able to take on board the highest safety standards and consideration for the environment. Of course, carrying out such an analysis does not guarantee success but it certainly helps. Creating the plan enabled the engineers to identify improvements to ensure the project finished on time. For example, at an early planning stage they increased the number of construction workers required.
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The Leven Viaduct project provides a good example of the challenges and excitement of working for Network Rail. On 16th July 2006, the viaduct was officially re-opened on time and to budget. Network Rail invested £14 million to remove decking and support girders across all 49 spans of the viaduct, improving safety standards and guaranteeing the availability of a vital transport link. In doing so they were able to secure the future of one of the North West’s most historic and impressive landmarks for another 140 years.
1. Who was involved in making sure that the Leven Viaduct was completed on time? 2. What is a critical path analysis? How did this tool help the project to be completed on time? 3. What is the relationship between critical path management and budgeting in a project like the Leven Viaduct? 4. What sorts of actions could project managers have taken if the Leven Viaduct had fallen behind the critical path schedule?