One of the key areas in which Network Rail uses precast concrete products is in the construction of station platforms. Look at a modern platform or platform extension, and it is likely to be made from a variety of concrete beams, slabs and trestles, all manufactured elsewhere and then assembled on site like a giant construction kit.

Charcon Specialist Products, part of Aggregate Industries UK Ltd, has supplied Britain’s railways with precast concrete platform products for over 30 years. It has maintained a strong market presence throughout this time, and the range of products it is now able to offer has increased significantly over the last few years through acquisitions and expansions.

Significant investment

A large capital investment from its parent company has allowed Charcon to expand and improve its flagship manufacturing facility at Littleport, Cambridgeshire, which forms the hub of its precast rail operations.

Charcon’s rail products portfolio traditionally included platform surface products such as copings, edge warning tactile paving, trestle slabs, oversail blocks and bridge parapet copings. As a result of the new investment, this has now expanded to include components for platform construction itself, including support beam and hollowcore flooring, platform retaining walls, semi and fully modular precast platform solutions.

The platform construction side of the business is a key part of Charcon Specialist Products’ growth strategy, with a significant amount of investment going into capacity enhancements. The additional products complete the range and create a ‘one stop shop’ for precast rail platform products.

While the market for platform surface products is reasonably stable, the real growth area is in precast modular platform solutions. Charcon engineers spent a long time with Network Rail working on a Form A approval in principle for precast modular platforms.

Now that this is included in the Network Rail specification NR/L3/CIV/162 issue 2 for platform extensions, it is no longer perceived as something unusual or a risk. The result is that more schemes are now using precast platforms due to the benefits such systems offer, and as specialists in the field Charcon is well placed to capitalise on these opportunities.

Recent success

The Littleport factory has already proved that it can deliver high-quality modular precast platform products to the rail industry on time and on budget by supplying projects such as the remodelled station at Blackfriars. Charcon produced the precast modular platforms, along with other platform surface products including copers and tactiles.

More recently, Charcon has been appointed by Costain as one of its delivery partners for the remodelling of London Bridge Station and is currently working as part of the project team to develop the precast platform designs for the project. That work has developed from very early meetings with Network Rail through to the contractor tender process, promoting the benefits of a precast modular solution.

Charcon was invited by Costain to tender for the works and now, as part of the delivery team, is able to offer significant cost savings and efficiency, demonstrating the benefits of early engagement in the project.

Charcon is an operating division of Aggregate Industries, one of the largest construction materials suppliers in the UK. As such, it has the largest geographical reach of any precast supplier in the country due to the extensive facilities within the Aggregate Industries family. If the project dictates, production can be set up in the manufacturing facility nearest to the site, or at the very least products can be stored close to the project, which improves efficiency and reduces handling and transport costs.

In-house manufacture

Charcon is one of the few companies in the industry able to manufacture all its precast rail products in house at its own facilities, giving the customer confidence that what they are receiving is actually an Aggregate Industries product.

This allows it to provide complete traceability on all its production, both from a QA perspective, right down to which quarry actually produced the raw materials.

The rail industry particularly needs to have confidence in the product it is receiving and to know that the supplier will be around for many years to come, offering complete traceability and accountability on its products.

Competition in the sector is fierce with a relatively small number of approved suppliers competing against each other, so all manufacturers are constantly striving to innovate and find new ways to do business. Charcon is no exception, and understands that innovation is essential. It has long been a market leader in this sector, and the resources at its disposal allow the company to constantly be looking at ways to become more efficient and drive down cost.

One recent example of this is the distribution arrangement that Charcon has entered into with Keyline. The company recognised that not all projects are set up to take full loads of product direct onto site during normal working hours, and having Keyline acting as a stockist ensures that Charcon remains competitive on projects of all sizes.

Despite going into 2013 with a secure order book, Charcon expects the rail side of its business to grow substantially in the next 3 years. With a programme of continuing innovation and customer focus, it is sure that it will be supplying the rail network for another 30 years.