Jacobs graduate geotechnical engineer, Laura King, shares her insight of working on the multi-billion dollar California High-Speed Rail project, and what she’s looking forward to bringing to her next role on High Speed 2.

The $64 billion California High-Speed Rail (CAHSR) project* will provide a 220 mph train service over 65 miles of new track linking San Francisco and Sacramento in the north with Los Angeles and San Diego in the south. The high-speed rail (HSR) will provide a crucial energy-efficient link between these cities with a journey time of 2 hours 40 minutes. The project will also act as a catalyst for further high-speed rail development across the United States, linking to a proposed HSR network spanning the country.

Our Jacobs team led by John Meng is providing design services for two construction packages on the project. Jacobs brought together specialist capability from the U.S., managed by Paul Murphy, and the U.K. to create a diverse geotechnical team. This included U.K. Head of Ground Engineering Peter Gilbert’s expertise having written technical standards for European high speed railways. Our team also collaborated with CEDEX’s Transport Research Centre – the specialized technical laboratory in Spain, where high-speed rail simulation and other testing takes place.

I was offered the opportunity to work on this fascinating and challenging project as a graduate engineer. Starting as a geotechnical advisor for a specific area of groundworks, I developed into my current role as the assistant project manager of the U.K. geotechnical team. I worked closely with U.S. colleagues, contractors, industry experts and academics to collaboratively determine the direction of the geotechnical aspects of the project, developing innovative geotechnical solutions for the construction of embankments suitable for high-speed rail.

I attended regular meetings with the design team and contractors and met with academics and industry leaders to evaluate various methods and processes for the design of high-speed rail embankments. This enabled me to develop personally, providing me with networking, project management, coordination, specialist technical skills and considerable commercial awareness, plus extensive evidence for my Institution of Civil Engineers chartership. I learned a great deal from the challenges and opportunities that arise when working on a cutting-edge project of this scale and international interest. Innovation and collaborative working are vital, and this knowledge will be highly applicable to High Speed 2 (HS2).

As a combined international team, we overcame technical and constructability challenges to develop a novel method of embankment design where a lot of the lessons learned will directly apply to the work for HS2. We also fostered a culture in which colleagues at all levels were empowered to put forward good ideas, and excellence at all levels was rewarded and supported. This enabled junior members of staff, such as myself, to have considerable responsibility and development over the course of the project. I think it is this culture, even more than the technical and commercial knowledge gained, which I will bring most strongly to working on HS2.

*Source: www.hsr.ca.gov