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East West Rail

Shortlisted for Sustainable Infrastructure Award 


In 2019 Arup was commissioned as Engineering Partner by East West Railway Company (EWR Co) to support delivery of the new Oxford to Cambridge East West Rail link through providing planning, sustainability and design services during the concept design development stage.  Arup predominantly provided these services from 2019 to 2021, initially covering the new build section of railway between Bedford and Cambridge and subsequently including upgrades of existing sections covering the full route.  Subconsultant support was provided by Atkins Ltd, Ardent Consulting Engineers, Copper Consultancy Ltd, ERM Ltd. and Wood Plc.   

From the outset, the EWR project was planned to be different and to provide a platform for exemplar activity in the industry:  EWR Co was keen to raise the ESG (Environmental Social and Governance) benchmark for new rail and major infrastructure projects.  Arup & Partners worked with EWR Co to enable and advance this aspiration in a highly collaborative manner across the client and project team; demonstrating how the project could be delivered, supporting EWR Co in making bold and quantified environmental commitments and bringing additional focus to community impacts and social value.   This application shows how Arup & Partners facilitated an exceptional approach to sustainability-led design of a major infrastructure project at an early project phase, and how this provides a framework for delivering sustainable development through detailed design, construction and operation.

Sustainability considerations were embedded within the EWR project’s governance structure and design aspirations, with environmental, social and economic factors mandated as part of the design and decision-making process.  Innovations were used to deliver an integrated approach to sensitive design, and ultimately realise the project’s aspirations in an efficient manner.

Specifically, as a result of Arup & Partners’ collaborative approach with EWR Co, the project:

  • Using artificial intelligence to gather land use and environmental data at a project stage when physical surveys are not appropriate.

  • Early commitment to BNG delivered in a strategic manner, using an integrated digital approach to map and calculate the BNG that may be achieved during the design process.

  • Accelerated a cost‐effective programme due to innovative approaches to survey and embedding sustainability considerations in a collaborative manner resulting in fewer design iterations and a focus on receptor avoidance to reduce costs of mitigation.

  • Optimised design by embedding the Environment (including social) and GIS teams within the design team to promote collaboration, realise efficiencies and iterate the design in real time.

Integrating ESG

ESG was embedded through the project’s organisational structure and governance, providing a truly integrated and collaborative approach to delivering the project.

EWR Co and Arup defined a project organisational structure that gives sustainability equal weight to engineering and design.  The Environment Lead (who also led social considerations) sits within the Project’s Leadership team, and all design meetings were co-chaired between the Environment and Engineering Managers.  Design walk-throughs, held to understand how the design should develop, were attended by both sustainability and engineering disciplines and environmental concerns (eg risk of adverse effects to European designated assets) were considered as seriously as engineering concerns.  Sustainability considerations were also deeply embedded within the decision-making process, with the Environment Lead sitting on the project’s decision-making groups, and with sustainability performance specified as one of EWR’s core design assessment factors. 

Improving Sustainability within the Project  

Working closely with EWR, Arup & Partners’ activities resulted in numerous improvements to the sustainability of the project, many of which are exemplary for the early design phase of a major infrastructure project.  We present here a few examples where the project demonstrates an exceptional approach to collaboratively embedding sustainability within the project and the benefits that this realised.

EWR had strong aspirations for developing a net zero carbon railway.


To facilitate collaboration and support the environment (including social), engineering and design teams in integrating their requirements from the outset, Arup developed an innovative GIS-based approach to design.  An online map-based suite of registers (including environmental and social, mitigation, risk, and design) was created to present geographical points in a single integrated web map.  Teams could work directly in GIS, achieving more interactive resolution of design issues and identification of hotspots. This approach was innovative in both nature and timing, with the map created early during concept design to provide a platform for collaboration between the designers and environmental specialists. 

The web map, which was updated on a weekly basis, was used to first observe and avoid receptors, then plan mitigation as an integrated component of the design, with the tool enabling quantifiable elements of design impacts to be calculated. All project team members had access to the web map, enabling it to be used as a design review tool during workshops and in communication with EWR Co.  This tool has been handed over to EWR for use through the subsequent project phases (including construction, operation and maintenance), facilitating continuation of the project’s integrated environmental, social and engineering approach.

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