As spending on road and rail infrastructure continues to rise, there is a growing realisation that owners and operators can gain significant value from taking advantage of the data available from project delivery teams.

BIM is helping to improve the quality and availability of handover data, which will enable better operation and management of the assets. But the “give me all the data at handover” method isn’t enough.

The general construction industry has tended to focus on creating 3D models rather than data, but that’s beginning to change. Managing real assets in the virtual world needs accurate, reliable and accessible data, which somebody has to source, manage and ultimately leverage. In terms of who should do that and when it should be done, Fiatech reported that it costs eight time more for the owner to cleanse as-built data than doing it pre-handover. If you were the owner, which would you prefer?

There are three main areas to address when shifting the focus to data:

  • The owner’s role in defining better business outcomes for projects
  • Delivering projects in ways that reduce risk and cost for everyone, focused on achieving business outcomes
  • Supporting supply chains so they can safely and profitably meet the project objectives

The role of the owner

Owners have an important part to play in defining better business outcomes, but just mandating BIM isn’t enough. Owners need to define their data requirements early in the project process, and specify how procurement will be affected. A common data environment (CDE) should be established early in the process – ideally set up, owned and managed by the client on behalf of the project and used by everyone. The CDE provides a ‘single source of truth’ for the team, as well as fulfilling the role of an enterprise document management system, engineering content management system and data repository. A properly set up and configured CDE resolves many of the concerns that teams have about protecting their information and data, and above all, their intellectual property.

Delivering the project

Once the owner has defined the project and business outcomes, then it’s up to the project delivery team to safely deliver on time and on budget. Robust ROI studies for BIM are few and far between but there are some good examples of where risk and cost have been reduced by implementing life cycle information and data management. Crossrail is cited as a BIM best practice project – with good reason. From the start, it aimed to set a world-class standard for creating and managing data for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of railways. Policy and Planning for Large Infrastructure Projects: Problems, Causes, Cures reported that the average cost overrun on rail projects was 44.7 per cent but Crossrail is on time and on budget at around the halfway mark.

Successful BIM relies heavily on people and process but it’s ultimately underpinned by appropriate technology. Here are just a few examples of what’s being used on road and rail projects today:

Reality modeling with ContextCapture

Knowing the existing conditions of an asset portfolio is an important first step any decision process. Owners want to survey and inspect their assets, project delivery companies need to plan and monitor their actions and report to their customers, and governments want to better understand their territories. Being able to quickly reconstruct an accurate 3D model representing the existing conditions is proving to be increasingly useful. ContextCapture can be used for surveying, mapping and inspecting everything from single objects to entire cities – at any level of detail. Got a smartphone? Try it with the camera on that. Here’s an example showing site changes (in yellow) from one month to the next.


ContextCapture screenshot

Visually blended information and data 

Technology has made it easier to combine and manipulate real-world and virtual-world information and data. For example, point clouds, laser scans, video and CAD models of rail infrastructure can be combined into a single blended video and used for track design, signal sighting and driver training. This frame is taken from a live video, blending existing assets (blue) with a planned overhead wire system (white).

Live Video Frame

Live video frame

Managing complexity

One of the most important parts of managing project delivery is having a secure, robust and easy-to-use CDE – one that is ideally owned, set up and managed by the client on behalf of the project. That environment stores and manages a wide variety of file types: maps, drawings, reports, models, surveys, specifications, and so on. Here’s a high-level view of how it ‘hangs together.’

Project Performance Dashboard

Project performance dashboard

Supporting supply chains

BIM academies are an effective way of educating, training and supporting owners and their supply chains, from Tier 1 contractor C-level to specialist suppliers and trade package contractors. A tailored academy curriculum can focus on business processes, standards, supporting technologies and, most importantly, the cultural impacts of BIM. Academies support projects by:

  • Enhancing process awareness
  • Fostering openness and team collaboration
  • Encouraging and supporting research and development
  • Providing role-based education, training and support
  • Managing the on-boarding of participants
  • Driving innovation project delivery and asset management
  • Benchmarking and performance monitoring
  • Gathering industry feedback
  • Creating a lasting legacy of best practice

Getting it right

The big question is how to ‘do BIM’ so that you get the benefits and avoid the potential productivity pitfalls. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan and implementing BIM isn’t easy – no change is. It takes time, effort and funding to do BIM successfully. It’s also important to recognise that not everything will work first time and that appropriate measures need to be put in place to manage the business risk. But what industry-changing opportunities aren’t worth a few properly-managed risks?

Infrastructure owners have a key part to play in defining and demanding business outcomes for their projects. Delivery teams must exploit BIM processes and technologies in ways that deliver better projects and reduce risk and cost for everyone. Supply chains must be educated, trained and supported so that they can safely and profitably meet the project objectives.

Get those things right and it’s a game-changer for road and rail.

Written by Paul King of Bentley Systems