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Procurement process letting down railway projects

Any construction project is only as good as its procurement process. It is a long journey from client inception to project handover and there are many opportunities for quality slippage along the route.  If the design and contracts teams are poorly briefed on intended project performance or specifications are inadequately developed and protected, then the likelihood is that both product quality and client aspirations will be sacrificed to lower costs and inferior manufacture.

A new approach to procurement is being developed whereby product specification is based on system performance, rather than it being seen as a list of disparate components to be traded down to ever lower prices. System performance looks at the overall life of the project, not just the contract expenditure during the build. Luminaires that are considered expensive when compared to lower quality alternatives often prove to be best value when the whole-life costs are taken into account. Higher-cost equipment usually performs more efficiently, possibly requiring fewer units to deliver the required performance and offers a longer life-term requiring little or no maintenance or component replacement.

To help the luminaire specification to survive the inevitable cost-cutting exercises that every project brings with it, a systems design approach requires a series of validation checks, gateways that require every partner in the project team to confirm and justify any changes to the design specification before the documentation can be signed off and handed on. In this way, system performance retains its dominant position during project progress and any cost reductions or compromises in equipment quality have to be set against the broader requirements of the project.

Lighting projects on the UK rail network are suffering exactly this problem. In seeking to find ways to protect technical innovation and project quality, Transport for London (TfL) is supporting the Pro-Lite initiative (Procurement of Lighting Innovation and Technology in Europe). Pro-Lite is seeking to demonstrate how public sector authorities can utilise their procurement power in ways that will ensure that innovative products and technologies can be sourced successfully.

Six Work Packages will look at every stage in the procurement process from inception to installation and beyond into maintenance;

  • analyzing project needs
  • investigating cutting-edge lighting technologies
  • seeking early engagement within the marketplace for appropriate lighting solutions
  • developing specification, contracting and financing activities
  • developing procurement processes that support the project analysis
  • publish case studies that describe the successful implementation of the Pro-Lite system.

An example of Pro-Lite in action was publicised at the end of 2015 when Consip, the Italian national central purchasing body, asked for tenders for a public lighting contract with an estimated value of € 1,597M. The framework contract detailed the terms & conditions and associated costs to deliver an end-to-end management solution for the contract. Contracts will include:

  • The provision of electricity
  • The maintenance and retrofitting of lighting systems (poles, lamps, etc.)
  • The management of traffic lights

all designed to maximize savings that can be achieved through energy efficiency while improving effectiveness, comfort and public safety.

The procurement process in the UK construction sector needs an overhaul. Client performance briefs are regularly diluted as a consequence of the commitment to downwards-cost targets. Lighting specifications are especially vulnerable to these practices as performance criteria are often ignored in favour of cheaper alternatives. Lighting companies are insufficiently interrogated as to the quality of their products, nor on the claims made for luminaire and source performance.  Inititatives such as Pro-Lite demonstrate that there can be different ways of doing things, delivering a better quality result through a process of examination and co-operation.

Current Pro-Lite Partnership members are:
Transport for London
Free Hanseatic City of Bremen
Municipality of Torino
Consip, the central purchasing body for the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance
EVE (Ente Vasco de la Energia) devises energy strategies through Spanish government directives
PIANOo (Dutch Public Procurement Expertise Centre) works with over 3000 public procurement and tendering bodies in the Netherlands


  • Lux is hosting a special Lighting for Rail conference in London on Wednesday 22 June. It’s free for consulting engineers and representatives of network operators and TOCs. To view the details and register for a place, click here.




Picture: Copyright Network Rail