To see the extent to which the electrification programme is ramping up in this country, one only has to look at the budgets. In the five-year control period that is just ending (CP4), there was a total spend of £260 million. That in itself is a significant amount of money.

But in CP5, which stretches from April 2014 to March 2019, the budget has grown to £4 billion. That immense figure can be split roughly into £2 billion for electrification work and another £2 billion for allied civil engineering work such as gauge clearances.

In addition, there are several more large pieces of work that are not included in those figures. The operation of Network Rail’s new high-output electrification train that has been awarded to Amey, the electrification component of the Edinburgh to Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP), Phase 1 and 2 of the North West electrification (being delivered by Balfour Beatty Rail) and TransPennine electrification which is currently waiting to be awarded.

Forming a new community

Network Rail has announced that the £2 billion will be delivered against six regional framework agreements which have been split between four organisations. Nick Elliott, currently Regional Director – Southern but soon to take up a new role as managing director of the national supply chain, was in charge of the Network Rail team which made the recent announcement.

“Awarding these contracts was all about ensuring that scarce resources can be used most efficiently,” he told The Rail Engineer. “We talked with the industry, the contractors who were bidding for this work and who wanted to be part of what we are doing, and this is what they wanted.”

With a fixed workbank, and several years of visibility, the contractors can now plan what people, skills and equipment they will need to deliver the various schemes.

Now that the contracts are in place, and the contractors are no longer competing for business, Nick wants them to all work together so that best practice and discovered efficiency improvements can be shared to keep the cost of all the programmes down. REDP – the rail electrification delivery programme – is moving to REDG – the delivery group – comprising these four companies plus some other
key players such as designers and power transmission and distribution companies, to take this process forward.

“I’m very excited,” Nick continued. “We have the opportunity to form a new community, investing in common, industry-wide resources. We are planning to create a National Academy for electrification training – not an actual centralised training school but a federated academy across the country, bringing the training facilities our contractors already have together with Network Rail’s and adopting common standards and qualifications.”

This all sounds very impressive. However, if the industry is going to gear up in this way, what is the long term future? Will it all come to an end in March 2019 with the completion of CP5?

“Not at all,” Nick explained. “These frameworks are for seven years, with a possible three years of extensions, so that will take us to the end of CP6. And we (Network Rail) are already planning with the Department for Transport what work will be needed in CP6 and beyond.”

First out of the blocks

So that’s the view from Network Rail, but what do the contractors actually think about the new plans?BBR wiring train 2 [online]

One of the first schemes to get underway will be the electrification of the Midland main line. Preparatory works are due to start this summer, and it is one of two regions won by the joint venture Carillion-Powerlines, a combination of the British civil and railway engineers Carillion and SPL Powerlines – an electrification specialist based in Vienna which has group companies in most European countries. The Rail Engineer recently reported on one of its contracts in Sweden, during which they were training linesmen from other countries including the UK (issue 104, June 2013).

Martin Smith is Carillion’s project director – electrification. “We were very pleased to get these two regions,” he said. “We are already carrying out gauge enhancements in the Midlands for the Doncaster to Water Orton (D2WO) scheme, and we are involved in electrification schemes in Rutherglen and Cumbernauld in Scotland, so they are a good fit.”

Early engagement in the process is very important to Carillion-Powerlines as they can then influence how things will be built, and in what order.

“This first thrust will be to electrify from Bedford to Corby,” Martin Smith continued. “But we shall also be working alongside other contracts, such as the rebuilding of Leicester and Derby stations, to take advantage of any blockades and access that give us the opportunity to get things done early.”

His colleague in the joint venture is another Martin – Martin Hawley of Powerlines. As the electrification specialist, he is concerned about resources. “One of the reasons we came together is to combine our strengths in terms of training and our investment in people,” he commented. “We have already taken on 40 new recruits with another 10 joining us now. We needed to get them recruited early so that, by the time we start work later this year, they are fully up to speed.”

“We have 350 linesmen in Powerlines, and we deployed 30 of them with Carillion over Christmas. We can use our European workforce to fill the peaks and troughs, although the UK company will have its own workforce for most of the work.”

This philosophy is a common theme across the industry. All of the successful contractors see that employing their own qualified linesmen is the way to go rather than relying on contingent labour. The feeling is that having fully-employed staff is the way to ensure stability.

The other resource that all of the framework contractors will need is the actual equipment to carry out the work. Carillion-Powerlines is still finalising its requirements, but has a fair idea of what it wants.

“We could go for a conventional train, a locomotive and a set of wagons – or for a series of specialist road-rail vehicles which work together in a ‘production line’,” Martin Smith mused. “We have already spent over £3 million on plant – SRS lorries, baskets and so on – for our MAFA (multi-asset framework agreement) work, so we are likely to buy more of the same.”

Real Scale

The other company to win two geographical areas is ABC Electrification, named after its three owners – Alstom, Babcock and Costain. Jonathan Willcock is both an Alstom UK main board director and one of two Alstom nominees on the ABC board.

“This contract is just right for us,” he enthused. “When we set up ABC, we scaled it to have a turnover of £150-£200 million per year. We could see the need for a well- organised and experienced electrification contractor. We had already set up ATC, our joint venture with TSO and Costain which won the £350 million fit-out contract for Crossrail, and wanted to do the same thing for the national railways so we invited Babcock to join us.

“We had a number of false starts, we bid on a few contracts but were unsuccessful, and then we won the £70 million West Coast power supply upgrade project. We learned an awful lot from that. Now we have won these two regions of the national electrification programme (NEP) we have real scale.”

The three constituent companies seem well matched. Alstom is the equipment supplier and engineering manager, Babcock has real experience in working with Network Rail at both regional level and on national frameworks, and Costain are highly professional project managers. But that doesn’t mean they will do everything themselves.

“We have an arrangement with Keltbray to be our tier two supplier for both machinery and manpower,” Jonathan continued. “We also have arrangements with Atkins, our designers in the North West, and Arup for the Welsh valley lines. Systra is working with us on EGIP but that is outside of this framework.”

In terms of hardware, ABC already has access to two specialist work trains. Babcock has a piling train and Alstom has a wiring train operating in Europe. Plans are already underway to bring that over to the UK. Some modifications will be needed so that it meets the British loading gauge but, as Jonathan stated, “nothing major”.

Really chuffed

Balfour Beatty Rail also has a wiring train, which will be going into service this month in the North West. It has already undergone successful trials. Managing director Mark Bullock is very proud of it. “It’s an actual train,” he enthused. “We had a couple of motive power units we weren’t fully utilising, so our plant engineers looked into what was available on the market, and what we could do ourselves.

By doing it in-house, buying in what we needed and reutilising what we already had, we value engineered an 80% saving on what it would have cost if we had gone to a manufacturer with our specification.”

It is well worth Balfour Beatty investing in this type of kit. Although it only won one geographical area of the NEP, the northern end of London North Western, that only represents about one third of the electrification work that the company carries out. It is also heavily involved in the above-ground sections of Crossrail and also in several multi-disciplinary projects (London Bridge for example) which have an electrification element. Still, Mark said that he was “really chuffed” that the company had won this important framework which he estimates will be worth around £200 million in the five years of CP5.

Having sufficient experienced linesmen is something that Balfour Beatty Rail also recognises is something it needs. Another 40 are to be recruited, but Balfour Beatty Rail has its own accredited training facility in Liverpool, convenient for the new project area, so Mark doesn’t see that as a real problem.

Balfour Beatty is also working on upgrading DC electrified track as part of the Track Partnership with London Underground. Although a different environment, Mark explained that lessons learned in one area do carry over to the other. Taking the critical underground network away from London is painful hence all works must be completed to time every time – overruns are not an option. “Track Partnership is proud of its record in delivering to this requirement. We are working with industry partners to cross transfer knowledge and expertise we have developed in readiness and preparation processes.”

More than happy

The southern region of the NEP was won by a new joint venture: AmeyInabensa. Although based in Oxford, Amey is owned by the Spanish Ferrovial group, and that company has worked closely with electrification compatriots Inabensa on the Spanish high speed lines.

“We have worked well together in Spain,” explained Javier Sanchez, Inabensa’s railway electrification director. “We currently have a
lot of work around the world, in Saudi Arabia, Chile, France and India, so when Amey wanted a partner for the UK it seemed natural.”

Inabensa 45 [online]Simon Rhoden, Amey’s business director for rail, agrees. “We already have a close relationship with Network Rail, and have made a big commitment to them on Great Western where we will operate the high output train. To give them the confidence that we could deliver another complete electrification scheme we needed a partner and, as Inabensa has already worked successfully with Ferrovial in Spain, they were the obvious choice.”

The joint venture’s region in the south is with two projects close to where Amey is already working on Great Western and the Barking to Gospel Oak project in Central London, and Simon is “more than happy” to be involved in the early development of these challenging projects.

Despite the skills of the two companies, it was felt that a UK-based design capability was also needed, so a second joint venture was formed, this time a four-way amalgamation of Amey, Inabensa, Mott MacDonald (for its expertise with power distribution networks) and URS which has a good reputation for overhead line design.

“The Southern area is potentially more than just overhead wiring,” Javier continued. “In some areas there will be both AC and DC systems
on the same line, and later we may have to decommission the third-rail installation.”

“It’s a 7+3 year contract,” Simon continued. “That takes us into CP6 and we still have to understand the CP6 workbank. However, we shall be training people up to do the work. We estimate that we will need 150-200 people, of which around 80% at any one time will be UK personnel with the balance being trainers and specific skills from Inabensa. The model is for us to be self-sufficient, in charge of our own destiny, so we shall recruit our own core workforce and have the possibility to fill-in from Spain when we need to.”

So, all four organisations seem happy with their share of the £2 billion NEP. They are all intending to recruit and train their own fully-employed workforce (although ABC is also working with Keltbray), with three of them filling in where necessary from their overseas joint venture partners. While not able to do that, Balfour Beatty Rail has a larger domestic operation so it can mix and match from its other projects.

Intellectual appeal

Reaction to Network Rail’s idea that all of the contractors will sit around the table exchanging experiences was a little more mixed. All felt that it was, in theory, a good idea. Jonathan Willcock (Alstom) said that “we should all work holistically, but we need to discuss how to do that. We all need to come up with a method for all of us to work collectively.”

Mark Bullock (Balfour Beatty Rail) said that he felt “people will initially hold back, as we are all competitors in the room. Network Rail wants us to engage to share ideas. It’s a nice concept, and intellectually it appeals to me. We have a track record of working in multi-party alliances with Network Rail and other contractors.”

Simon Rhoden of Amey was more positive: “Competition is negated as we are already in the framework. Old rivalries should be put aside. Sharing best practice is a good idea and is healthy for the industry.”

Interestingly, only one of the companies, Carillion-Powerlines, spoke at length about engaging with local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) along the route. It intends to use local fabricators for bracketry and simple components, and also local labour where it can. Martin Smith was quite clear that he felt it was good to get local business on board as it solves many problems with lineside neighbours before they get started.

Maybe that’s the first thing that the new panel should discuss across its table?