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East West Rail Project Phase 2

Minimising the negative impact of over-exploitation, land use change, and other threats

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  • What we know
  • What we’re doing
  • What it’s worth

What we know

Laing O’ Rourke as part of the East West Rail Alliance is responsible for the upgrade and reconstruction of existing and mothballed sections of the railway between Bicester and Bletchley. 

As a requirement of the Transport and Works Act Order (TWAO) that consented the East West Rail Phase 2 (EWR2) scheme, the Alliance needed to address the fact that one impact of EWR2 would be that some habitats within the existing railway footprint would be unavoidably lost.

To mitigate this, Network Rail set a clear 10% biodiversity net gain (BNG) target for the Project – the first time a public commitment to a specific BNG target has been made on a rail infrastructure project of this scale.

What we’re doing

The Alliance developed a comprehensive Environmental Statement for EWR2. Then, at an early stage of the project, it obtained advanced planning consents to construct Ecological Compensation Sites in advance of the main works starting.

To overcome the challenges involved in recording, communicating, and managing environmental risks and commitments along with a large linear project, the Alliance used a Geographic Information System (GIS) to display geospatial data so the whole team could access it.

The company used this tool to identify specific working locations’ environmental risks, commitments, and requirements. From this work, an Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA) was produced that helped the environmental and construction team plan the works.

Environmental permits to proceed were then issued, capturing requirements, and providing records of completion – all recorded in a monitoring log to ensure compliance.

GIS was also used to communicate consents and commitments from the TWAO, build environmental data into work plans, and provide a platform to share technical engineering data, land access, and monthly drone flights to show construction progress.

illustration of three birds in navy

What it’s worth

The Alliance’s environmental team’s early and proactive engagement with key stakeholders, such as Natural England, was a key factor enabling the project to hit all programme dates, obtain licenses and consents and mitigate environmental risks.

Applying the mitigation hierarchy and taking the unprecedented step of delivering large scale ecological compensation in advance of submitting the planning application to build the project enabled Network Rail to de-risk the construction programme on EWR2. As a result, Network Rail was able to deliver habitats towards achieving its BNG target on EWR2 before construction even commenced, significantly reducing the number of offsets needed.

Both also enabled the costs and large-scale ecological mitigation – reducing impact with initiatives such as great crested newt fencing – to be significantly reduced.

Being one of the first major infrastructure projects to formally commit to achieving a biodiversity net gain has been a challenge. And the Alliance has contributed to working groups to advance the understanding of deploying biodiversity net gain on a large scale, across county boundaries. 

This work has included testing drafts of Defra’s biodiversity metric and contributing to the work of the OxCam Local Natural Capital Plan team, including the Landscape Enterprise Networks (LENs): Pilot in Oxfordshire.

Network Rail’s commitment to benefitting the environment was also clearly demonstrated to key stakeholders.


I’m proud that our team worked diligently to develop biodiversity plans on a major rail project that will contribute to our client’s 10% biodiversity net gain goal. Early engagement and meticulous planning allowed us to deliver ecological solutions before construction began; experience that will help shape future solutions.”

Declan McGeeney Head of Infrastructure UK, Laing O'Rourke