FRENCH Rail Network (RFF) gave Setec and Egis Rail, the civil engineering and rail equipment prime contractors, the go-ahead at the end of 2005 to start design work to equip the Rhine-Rhône high-speed line, excluding the signalling.

A group called EF 2R was set up in which Egis Rail was responsible for overhead contact line design, track, and the works yard. Egis Rail also carried out signalling design work outside EF 2R, under a subcontract for the two sections assigned to Setec.

For the first time in France the overhead contact line (OCL) and track subsystems for a high-speed line with a design speed of 350km/h, were handled from the project phase by a private engineering firm rather than French National Railways' (SNCF) engineering subsidiary. This was because RFF wanted to evaluate the advantages of using a private contractor.

Following discussions with RFF, a contract award strategy was set up in 2007 for requests for proposals.

The prime contractor agreed that the Rhine-Rhône high-speed line would not only offer performance and safety levels at least equal to those of the last French high-speed line - TGV Est Phase 1 - but also provide added value through improved cost control and lead times.

An organisation was set up for the three-year project. First, RFF and Egis Rail agreed on input data, taking account of analyses and assumptions based on studies in the preliminary design phase. This was followed by establishing technical definitions and supporting documentation, and interface management.

The OCL basic design phase was crucial to avoid any unscheduled changes along the 140km section. OCL design had to meet the European standards relating to fixed electric traction installations and the Technical Specification for Interoperability (TSI) for the energy subsystem. In a TSI OCL subsystem, the contact wire must meet geometrical criteria, particularly for high-speed lines, including:

• contact height of 5.08m

• contact wire gradients of 0% for areas where speed exceeds 250km/h, and

• maximum lateral deviation due to wind of 400mm.

Egis Rail optimised the maximum spans between each mast which reduced the number of masts required. It also redefined the dropper arrangement between the messenger and the contact wire for reasons of elasticity and to avoid the need for waivers in this area for the future Rhine-Rhône line. The first dropper is now fitted 5m from the equipment, instead of 4.5m on previous high-speed lines.

Despite the simplified elasticity criterion in the 2008 Energy TSI, dynamic tests showed that the OCL offered excellent elasticity with the new dropper arrangement.

Track design consisted of defining track geometry and equipment. Given the small number of components, track optimisation did not seem particularly conducive to innovation. Following a study, Egis Rail decided to equip the Rhine-Rhône line with monobloc concrete sleepers rather than twin-bloc.

Using monobloc sleepers eliminates tie-bar bar rusting or breaking, and modification of track geometry through tie-bar deformation. Load distribution is improved, thereby limiting levelling faults, adjustments to packing or track alignment, and track bed defects. Monobloc sleepers only use 5kg of steel, compared with 24kg for twin-bloc sleepers.

But the decision affected everyone involved:

• manufacturers were concerned by the material and geometric characteristics, ageing, and loading conditions

• Infrarail, the supplier, was concerned about logistics, pre-storage and cost

• railway construction contractors had to take account of the impact on track-laying because pre-ballasting is necessary before laying monobloc concrete sleepers to ensure that supports do not overhang the track bed

• the "delegated infrastructure manager" had to consider the impact on track maintenance, and

• RFF needed to consider the impact on work schedules and costs.

Signalling design

Signalling design studies were carried out by RFF while Egis Rail conducted a critical analysis of the data to complete the design. At this point, an initial contract for additional design studies was signed with Egis Rail as prime contractor, to allow contractors to determine the exact cost of the signalling equipment.

Traction current return and earthing studies were gradually modified by Egis Rail as the project evolved. Egis Rail acted as the interface between traction and signalling design work.

Construction of the track, OCL and works yard was grouped within a single contract because track and OCL work requires heavy-duty equipment and temporary operating and safety regulations. Doing so cut the number of interfaces which limited the risk of disputes and delays.

The prime contractor was responsible for technical management, general arbitration planning and quality control. This involved detailed design and construction of a works yard using components loaned from RFF, provision of traction equipment for the supply trains, and preparation and implementation of operating and safety regulations for the construction site and contractors.

Preparation of these regulations by the constructor simplified their application considerably while limiting the number and seriousness of accidents.

The prime contractor recommended that the signalling contract should include all services and components that could be opened up for competition. This included:

• signalling interface and outdoor equipment

• low-voltage power

• cables

• all cable stringing work, including for telecoms

• detailed design and supply of signalling works, and

• technical checks and static tests.

Delivery of materials has always been critical in high-speed line construction, as interruption in the supply of a single component can delay work or rapidly bring it to a halt.

To avoid this, supply of all OCL components, except the contact wire, was assigned to the contractor group in charge of the track, OCL and works yard contract; the contractor in charge of building the works yard was closely involved in fixing the delivery schedule and defining equipment acceptance and routing, storage, handling equipment and security.

SNCF/RFF contracts for delivering components by train included obligations regarding delivery times, returning supply trains, and train stabling times at the works yard, resulting in a supply reliability rate of 98% for the whole site.

Despite RFF's security measures, previous construction sites suffered from copper theft which not only increased costs but also lead to serious delays. For example, on TGV Est more than 20km of overhead contact wire was stolen. On TGV Rhine-Rhône, site security was organised by the prime contractor and responsibility for security was shared among all contractors, which prevented malicious acts and cable theft.

Signalling products

Apart from NS1 relays, all signalling products, including cables, were supplied by private contractors. This was an innovation in France, where contracts are traditionally divided into design and construction work, with equipment being supplied by SNCF. This paid off as the group in charge was able to supply approved products at competitive prices and manage interfaces internally.

Egis Rail monitored the performance of the track, OCL and works yard contracts, which came into effect on June 9 2008, and the signalling, energy and cabling contract, which took effect on August 25 2008.

A novel working method was adopted. Contractors were responsible for all aspects of construction work, including rail traffic safety regulations, while quality assurance system was applied to all operations, and procedures. Reports were also drawn up for all construction and test phases, and as-built document records were compiled.

The Egis Rail structure within EF 2R comprised two teams of four to five members each working with a contract engineer. They were based on site and were responsible for contract monitoring, invoice validation and design, construction work and test monitoring. One team was responsible for the track, OCL and works yard, while the other was responsible for signalling, energy and technical buildings.

Technical teams supporting the contract engineer were responsible for preparing the approval process for design deliverables. The teams in charge of approvals and technical support only stepped in for specific actions. Contract support and quality teams were based on site, and a test support team was responsible for centralising and monitoring reservations for the entire site.

To generate economies of scale, site monitoring was optimised without affecting work quality by:

• setting up monitoring and inspection plans by the prime contractor for tasks which impacted safety and/or that could upset project scheduling

• closely involving contractors to define hold points for inspection plans

• setting up technical assistance contracts for external work, and

• carrying out inspections for OCL, signalling, track-laying, and topography.

This structure guaranteed a rapid response to the many changes to the project during construction, without losing control of costs, lead times and quality.

Technical teams were set up to approve construction procedures and methods, specifications and drawings prepared by the contractors. This made it possible to check their compliance with contracts, reference standards, TSIs, test inspection procedures and plans prepared by the prime contractor.

Contractors were obliged to submit reference documentation to the prime contractor for suppliers, including a quality assurance plan, material certificates, manufacturing procedures, technical standards or specifications applied during production, production inspections during factory acceptance, certificates of conformity, and SNCF approval certificates. The prime contractor took part in factory acceptance procedures.

Egis Rail used a track recording trolley to inspect distortion, gauge and the dimensions of points and crossings to save time prior to ballasting.

The position of several intermediate supports along large points and crossings was measured with a theodolite. The supports were used as a reference point for measuring the position of other supports using a 10m tape. This overcame variations in tape measurements due to temperature differences between installation and measurement.

The prime contractor carried out 3D scanning to check that installations complied with drawings and what corrections were needed.

The objective was to ensure the gradual start-up of all components and subsystems prior to starting the overall transport system. They also demonstrated to the project owner and other bodies that the TSIs and safety standards needed to obtain an operating licence had been met.

The prime contractor approved contractor procedures, and oversaw quality monitoring and factory acceptance of materials and components, and static and integration tests. It also took part in dynamic testing which lasted 11 weeks, during which the test train covered 60,000km. Compared with TGV Est, dynamic testing required very little corrective action due to the expertise and rigorous approach adopted by everyone involved in the project.

Pre-operation and operational start-up was overseen by the delegate infrastructure manager.

Test procedures described how the tests were organised, the expected results, and equipment required, and included a template test sheet, which were then approved by the prime contractor. A report was issued after each test and approved by the prime contractor.

In conclusion, the appointment of a private project ownership group as prime contractor for railway equipment enabled innovative solutions to be developed by giving contractors greater responsibility. A new implementation-centred organisational structure improved the management of technical interfaces between contracts and enabled a more rapid response to changes in the project, while maintaining total control of costs, lead times and quality.

This article was written by Egis Rail engineers Yves Lapray, Alain Marcourt and François Fauvain with the collaboration of Jean-Pierre Nectoux, Gabriel Thelisson, Philippe Leemput and Eric Desseaux.