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Metros & Urban Rail

People profile: Mikel Alonso

Mikel Alonso

Mikel has worked on a broad range of international Metro projects including the London Underground, Auckland City Rail Link and the Baku and Melbourne Metro systems.

His experience includes tunnel ventilation and Mechanical and Electrical (M&E) design for underground systems, including railway, metro, road and utility projects. He also has experience in leading multi-disciplinary design teams, interface management and integration of railway systems, and commissioning and construction stages of underground works.

Here, Mikel shares insights on his experiences delivering metro projects in the international market.

Leading the multidisciplinary team

Managing multidisciplinary teams can be very challenging but, in my experience, I have found there is always a solution available.

London’s £16-billion Crossrail project comprised of 19 design contracts and nine consultancies. During my time on the project, I was responsible for managing the integration and interfaces of eight different system-wide disciplines of engineering, each with their own processes, objectives and deliverables.

Understanding people and personalities, teams and the way they do things is vital to leading and managing the diverse range of internal and external stakeholders inherent to large-scale infrastructure projects. Similarly, with so many stakeholders involved, the ability to filter through an abundance of information and to focus on important matters is also crucial.

Being communicative and actively listening is vital to recognising and understanding the competing pressures and interests of your people, teams and broader stakeholders. Keeping focused and avoiding reactive practices when unexpected; though, inevitable issues arise is important, too.

International practices in ventilation and M&E design

Comfort and safety expectations and operator needs vary, globally. In turn, ventilation and M&E design solutions must respond to the individual needs of a client which are influenced by a broad range of economic, population, environmental, and -- at times -- political considerations.

Some clients and operators prefer the Rolls Royce option, while others are happy with a more pragmatic and cost-conscious design approach. Regardless of preference, technical managers need to be able to apply 'horses for courses'; what is suitable for one client and their project may not be suitable for another.

For example, some countries have air-conditioning of stations as a must, other countries for climate, sustainability or cost reasons may decide not to do so. Similarly, much of the M&E design criteria in tunnels stems from the fire strategy, which is generally agreed by stakeholders such as fire brigade and transport authorities. These vary from country-to-country; so, inevitably, the M&E design criteria varies.

With ever-increasing urban population, aspects of the functionality of underground systems have had to adapt, and projects to provide step-free access or new signalling systems are becoming increasingly common.

Construction of new metros may become less straight forward for economic market reasons, with funding for new metros governments more challenging; however, paradoxically, investment in underground public transport is more necessary, with our cities becoming more congested and environmental issues better understood.

Know what you want

Metros are ambitious, people-centric transport systems that need to integrate into urban environments. They are long-term assets, and designing them requires sensible future proofing. Importantly, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to these projects.

Delivering a financially-viable system that can sensibly accommodate current and future passenger demands while remaining integral to the local public transport system is not simple; but with the right team and technical expertise, it can be realised.

Foremost, being clear about the project’s ‘mission’ and aspirations will help to assemble the right team with the right experience and expertise needs, to deliver on the individual requirements of your project.

Also, it is important to understand how funding models can contribute to the viability of the project during the early project development phases and business case preparation.

Finally, invest in your people and your team. Metro systems are now only one piece of an ever-changing transport puzzle. You need the right people who can advise on how a city is likely to grow, how environmental considerations might affect the system, and how you can build for change and future development.

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