Managing innovation on Crossrail

Crossrail is currently Europe’s largest civil engineering project, with 20 main contractors and up to 10,000 workers. While preferring tried-and-tested methods, the £14.8 billion scheme has nevertheless evolved several new ways of working thanks to an equally novel innovation strategy.

A telescropic clamshell excavator emerged from Crossrail
A telescropic clamshell excavator emerged from Crossrail's project innovation

In a free-to-download paper in the ICE Civil Engineering journal, jointly written by Crossrail chief executive Andrew Wolstenholme, Tim DeBarro of Nichols Group says, ‘The aim was to shift from mantras about the intrinsic benefits of innovation to evidence about the most effective methods for managing it.’

Sourcing ideas

After an initial trial Crossrail launched its project innovation programme in 2013, with 50 ‘innovation champions’ and seed funding for good ideas. According to DeBarro, ‘In the first 12 months of the programme over 400 ideas were submitted, of which over 180 were developed into innovations and published at’.

Examples include using telescopic clamshell excavators, re-use of London Clay as lightweight aggregate, putting safety messages on safety gloves, and creation of segregated mobile communications zones.

DeBarro says systematic management of innovation is likely to become an established feature of all future UK megaprojects. ‘For example, the Thames Tideway Tunnel is in the early stages of developing its own innovation strategy.’

For more information, please contact the ICE Proceedings editor Simon Fullalove on +44 (0)20 7665 2448 or at