What does digital engineering mean to HS2?

HS2 is the first major infrastructure programme to adopt digital engineering, with BIM at its core, at the very earliest stages of the project to allow future benchmarking to be delivered over the entire lifecycle – and in real time. Head of digital engineering Dr Sonia Zahiroddiny explains how it works

Digital engineering within HS2 is an umbrella term used to describe the application of Computer Aided Design (CAD), Geographic Information System (GIS) and wider information modelling and management processes to enable a collaborative and efficient collection, sharing, integration and visualisation of engineering and asset data.

HS2 is too big and too complex to be managed using traditional static and document-based ways of working because we will be creating and need to manage large amounts of data. It is vital that the project’s data is of a high quality, plus it needs to be accessible and can be visualised in the wider context of the programme to support better decision making.

From its very earliest days, HS2 has been committed to utilising digital engineering, with BIM at its core. This is not only to fulfil our obligations as a publicly procured project but also to go beyond the government’s mandate to transform the way the industry has traditionally designed and constructed infrastructure projects. By doing so, we are following the example of manufacturing, aerospace and other advanced sectors that have used the latest trends in technology to revolutionise their ways of working.

How is digital engineering being used?

Digital engineering within HS2 supports engineering, asset information, environment, land and property and the railway’s delivery phases. Its application falls broadly into four categories:

  • For the overall strategy and its implementation, it is important to establish a clear vision, as well as setting clear objectives and requirements to deliver consis­tent implementation across HS2 and its vast supply chain.
  • Our approach to Connected Data Environment (CDE) is to ensure coordination, validation and verification of engineering and asset data, resulting in good quality information that is exchanged between HS2 and its supply chain and multiple contracts and across differ­ent stages of the project. The CDE consists of three key components:

Geographic Information System (GIS): Management of location data and geospatial representations of assets.

Computer Aided Design (CAD): Management of three dimensional (3D) graphical and geometrical data about our assets.

– Asset Information: Management of an index of core railway assets and all non-graphical and textual data associated with these assets.

Integration and visualisation platform is the start of creating HS2’s Digital Twin and brings together GIS, CAD models, asset, safety and project controls data into one viewing platform. This provides multiple views of the railway as it is planned and designed. This makes it easier and quicker to access, discover and analyse data on which we make key design and assurance decisions.

The Digital Twin will mature with the lifecycle of the physical railway to provide a unified view of the end-to-end railway and how it functions as a system of interconnected systems.

Finally, as part of our strategic commitments we have also established an upskilling platform to provide access to education and training material to both support the HS2 supply chain in responding to our digital engineering requirements and the wider industry.

How is HS2 benefiting from employing Digital Engineering?

HS2 has identified digital engineering, with BIM at its core, as one of the key enablers to unlocking substantial cost and time efficiencies, alongside better environmental and safety management. To realise these projected benefits, HS2 Ltd has established an extensive Digital Engineering Benefits Realisation Framework.

The framework seeks to maximise the investment that the HS2 digital engineering approach will deliver all the way from early concept design to operation at a project, programme and organisational level. It goes beyond a traditional performance management approach to provide an end-to-end assurance process that ensures the right capabilities are embedded at the right time and deliver the intended outcomes.

Mapping of pre-defined capabilities to the resulting changes and benefits provides traceability of what’s having a positive impact and enables real-time adjustment of working practice. For example, one of the core capabilities is to ensure that a clear set of information requirements and data specifications are incorporated into our contracts. These capabilities are grouped into four key elements of: People, Process, Technology and Data/Information.

In line with industry standards, comprehensive guidance, key performance indicators, maturity models, standardised reporting tools and metrics, risk-based auditing and upskilling materials all enable the capture of benefits as they happen, as well as sharing of best-practice and show areas for improvement.

Built collaboratively between HS2 and its supply chain, the framework helps promote the cultural transformation required to deliver digital engineering benefits to HS2 and future projects. A unique approach to storytelling builds momentum for further change and is an effective way to move beyond conservative approaches and capture benefits that hitherto have been hard to quantify. For example, “performance” or “reputation” benefits are measured qualitatively and are therefore much harder to quantify, so storytelling becomes a powerful means of bringing the less intangible benefits to life.

Available research on the benefits of digital engineering has been predominately focused on real estate and construction projects and captured retrospectively, it is therefore limited to quantifiable data. HS2 is the first major infrastructure programme to comprehensively apply digital engineering/BIM from such an early stage in its development. Having done so will enable future benchmarking to be applied to “whole-life” and to be delivered in real-time. By taking such an enlightened and far-sighted approach to digital engineering, HS2 is providing invaluable lessons to an industry mandated to make fundamental efficiencies in infrastructure delivery.

Dr Sonia Zahiroddinydigital engineering, hs2

Head of digital engineering


+44 (0)8081 434 434



Twitter: @hs2ltd

LinkedIn: HS2

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