This year’s Infrarail show is approaching rapidly, and a look through the list of exhibitors reveals that Vital Rail will be one of them.

Vital Rail is well known to the rail engineer, particularly as one of the main sponsors of the RailStaff Awards. Part of the Vital Services Group there is obviously much more to them than meets the eye, so it was off to Manchester to find out the details.

Vital Rail’s head office is based in a beautifully converted mill building (coincidently a former train engine brake manufacturer) on a cobbled street in Salford.

Inside, the various areas have been divided up using glass walls so that the original iron columns and wooden floors of the mill are emphasised rather than concealed.

Rapid reactions

John Smith, founder and CEO of the Vital Services Group established the company back in 1983. Through three decades of expansion and consolidation, the Vital Services Group of companies now includes; Consulting, Power, Rail, Resources, Skills Training, Solutions and Technology.

Each move into new business territory has been carefully selected to strengthen the company’s position within the Transport, Power and Communication sectors.

With John’s entrepreneurial skills he seeks out areas for expansion and development and this has been this case over the last year, with the company becoming increasingly involved in high-end technology projects.

“Vital can be illustrated pictorially as a pyramid,” commented John, drawing a large isosceles triangle on the paper in front of him.

“At the base we have the high volume / low margin business, and at the top is the low volume / high margin work.

“Vital Resources is a major recruitment services supplier to not only the rail industry but to other utilities as well. We provide a complete range of blue-collar workers for a variety of engineering roles. That’s the bottom of the triangle.”

Rail solutions

Above that he drew another line and wrote RAIL. Vital Rail is the contractor, using much the same labour as is supplied by Vital Resources to fulfil contracts in its own right.

“The line between these two can be grey at times,” John added.

“In here are fixed-price contracts, agency and contingency labour supply, and some work on signalling and OLE contracts. Vital RAIL SECURITY also falls in here, and they are doing an excellent job around the country protecting rail sites of all types.”

Vital Rail has a Network Rail Contractor’s License, so it is quite capable of managing its own contracts as well as supplying staff for other companies.

Next John drew a thick line nearly half way up his triangle and wrote SOLUTIONS below it. Vital Solutions is the white-collar arm of the business.

OLE, telecommunications and signalling engineers, amongst others, are placed on contracts. Many are graduates, and in addition to rail Vital Solutions also supplies its services to the oil and gas industry, power and civil engineering sectors.


Above the thick black line John wrote VT – for Vital TECHNOLOGY. He pointed at the narrowing section of his triangle. “Here the costs are higher, and the risks are higher. There is much more complexity in this work, but the rewards are higher too.”

Vital Technology was formed in 2006, and in 2007 acquired the company Ematics. That brand name is still used for SCADA installations, while VT also undertakes contracts such as the installation of communications networks, CCTV and control centres.

Much of VT’s work in the rail industry takes place in stations, controlling everything from passenger flows to car parks, including passenger information systems, WiFi, WiMax and Tetra networks, integrated surveillance and monitoring systems, help points, fire and train monitoring systems.


John was now getting towards the top of his triangle. Another line, and the word CONSULTING.

This is the high-end of Vital’s rail work, and includes specialist surveying, geotechnical investigations, and design consultancy. Complete projects are undertaken, such as running a pipeline under the running railway.

This involves surveying, obtaining permissions, doing the work, and having everything signed off – Vital provides a complete one-stop-shop for such a service.

Structural and earthworks monitoring is an important safeguard while other work is carried out, and Vital Consulting does this too.

“It’s a niche market”, John comments, “but an important one. Vital Consulting is an area we want to promote hard, and it is one reason why we will be at Infrarail.”

The Vital Rail stand at Infrarail will have all these companies present. John hopes that visitors to the show who know the Vital Rail name will glance at the stand, and then look again as they notice things they never saw before.

The logo will be the same, but the various divisions may be new to some people. However, experts from each operation will be on hand to give them details of what Vital has to offer, both at the bottom of the triangle and at the top.