The Lens BRT, the secrets of a major project

The Lens BRT, the secrets of a major project

In the city of Lens, located in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region mining basin in northern France, Colas is working on five sections of a Bus Rapid Transit project (BRT) as part of a consortium. To improve mobility in this region covering 1,000 km² and offer an efficient, more environmentally -friendly alternative to the car, the project set out to create some 110 km of dedicated lanes between 2017 and 2019. The six routes will serve the region’s main commuter hubs and give all residents access to a public transport network on a regional scale. We take a look at a major project in six acts, from the taking on of the new account through to the construction work.

Extract of Routes 41 - october 2018


The Lens BRT

A project, a team : “This contract had long since been identified by Colas Nord- Est’s local profit center, which immediately saw that a major project approach was required”, explains Stéphanie Minnebois, Colas Projects’ Sales Manager. Act 1: in September 2016 a team comprising Colas Projects (leader), Colas Nord-Est and Bouygues Energies and Services (a Bouygues Construction company) was assembled. “The added value of our consortium lay in the creation of a dedicated structure”, recalls Frédéric Dutour, Project Manager. “In addition to knowledge of the local environment, the mobilization of Colas Nord-Est ’s Artois (major projects) profit center and SNB unit (landscaping) reflected our determination to provide a solution taking into account the locations, the various representatives and local residents’ concerns.” Act 2: the construction of a high-impact, factual and precise technical brief meeting the customer’s requirements. For Stéphanie Minnebois, “the key was to show the customer that we had identified the challenges - compliance with deadlines and schedules, integration of the project in an urban environment, environmental approach - and that we wereproposing high-performance technical solutions. We got together in workshops to define the key items to be inlcuded. As for the form, we tried to write a clear and concise brief. That’s why it was so focused on the customer, and we won with the best bid.”

Five submissions, five contracts : In December 2016, the first brief associated with the bid for the Section 6 in Bruay-la-Buissière was submitted, and the foundations for the other four briefs were thus laid down. Act 3: the BRT adventure begins! “In total, five sections were awarded, representing more than 38 km of lanes worth €60 million”, explains Frédéric Dutour. “Starting work on these five sectors simultaneously was a major challenge after fewer than 2 months of preparation, par ticularly in terms of recruitment and team mobilization.” From the Hauts-de-France in northern France to the Vosges in the east, 350 employees from several of, Colas Nord-Est’s profit centers worked on-site at the height of the project. On the agenda: earthworks, roads, drainage, sur facing, green spaces. Aximum, Colas’ road safety and signing subsidiary, was responsible for temporary traffic signing on the approaches to the site.

Adapting to the local context : Act 4: constantly adapting. “In this region historically and topographically marked by two world wars, the BRT construction site was, for its part, impacted by the presence of shells and mines. Any explosive device, even when rusty and old, is dangerous”, underlines Frédéric Dutour. Just meters away from the Bollaert-Delelis stadium - a Lens landmark -, a former blockhouse was revealed, bringing work to a halt for a few months while the building’s galleries were checked and secured. “One of the unusual features of this project was the involvement of a company specialised in pyrotechnical issues, who sent a pyrotechnician and special equipment to sound out the land and detect metal objects prior to the launch of construction work”, continues Frédéric Dutour. “This was crucial to prevent any serious risks of explosion.” The sports arena was also an important consideration since access to the stadium had to be maintained for sports events and the site secured with anti-climb and anti-tip barriers. This security system had already been used by the subsidiary for the 2016 European soccer championships at Lille’s Pierre-Mauroy stadium.

Environment and safety : Act 5: the environment and safety at the heart of operations. From the design stage of the project, an environmental expert was brought in to outline the environmental issues to be taken into account when putting together the bid. The presence of invasive Japanese knotweed, consideration for migratory species and polluted land management: every environmental challenge was addressed during the execution of the project. “Since the risk of accidents was particularly high given the restricted space and the numerous machines present on the various sites, safety - Colas’ number one priority - was central to site management”, underlines Frédéric Dutour.

Key figures of the Lens BRT

  • 5


  • 350


  • 16

    months of work

  • 38

    km of lanes

  • 120,000

    tons of asphalt mixes applied

  • 48,000

    of job insertion programs

Integration in an urban environment

Final act : social acceptance. Because a jobsite that is well understood is well accepted. The free “Colas et Moi” app was used to monitor the BRT projects in real time. “With its options to search by sector, publish photos and a description of the work, sign up for alerts, etc., the app was our solution to create proximity and facilitate communication with residents.” At the height of the project, 300 people were using the app. In parallel, a facilitator was appointed and pairs of ambassadors liaised with shop owners and businesses to monitor the impact on them. Fourteen months after the work was launched, the time has come to start delivering the various sections of the BRT project. A trial run period is scheduled for December 2018. And, as Frédéric Dutour concludes: “A major project is a human adventure demanding constant adaptability, humility, energy and effective communication. With the Lens BRT project, our greatest success was the team spirit created. The project worked because of its people.”

“Colas Nord-Est agencies worked hand in hand.”

“The BRT project had long since been identified and Colas Nord-Est had all the resources and experience required to carry it out thanks to its extensive local presence. But the scale of the work meant that it couldn’t be managed purely at profit center level. The decision was made to work with Colas Projects from the time the new account was taken on, since this is a crucial phase demanding considerable investment in terms of time and people. The main challenge has concerned our workforce since it was important to avoid disrupting the running of the profit center. With eight teams present on the site, we had to juggle our employees working on the project and those working at the profit center because, in the meantime, business had taken off : road maintenance contracts, logistics platforms, business park projects with roads linking into the BRT lanes. We worked on a just-in-time basis. As with any major project, this meant we could send employees to where they were required and optimize the use of the equipment and machinery fleet. Ultimately, it’s all a question of striking the right balance between the execution of work and commercial relations management.” SÉBASTIEN BOTHIER, Colas Nord-Est’s Artois profit center Manager