The buzz around electrification is rife, with no sector receiving more attention in CP5.

Network Rail released plans at the beginning of CP5 committing funds to major electrification projects, including the Electric Spine, Great Western, North West and the power supply upgrade of the West Coast.

But, with such big plans, not to mention the prospect of the conversion of London and the South to 25kV in CP6 already a rumour, the big question is – are the suppliers ready to cope with such technically demanding projects?

Electrification has required significant planning, and not just in the purchase of appropriate plant. Training, recruitment and even longevity planning to ensure that CP6 doesn’t come around too quickly is vital to ensure that the power doesn’t cut out halfway through delivery.

Keltbray Electrification Plant, part of the Keltbray Group, has worked to ensure that it is completely ready to take on the challenge. Director of Keltbray Rail Electrification, Martin Brown, has been preparing for the onset of CP5 since 2012, when the company was awarded a £46 million upgrade contract for the West Coast main line, carrying out works from Wembley in the South to Crewe in the North West.

Shaping the industry’s plant

Over the past two years, Keltbray has invested more than £8 million in state-of- the-art rail plant and equipment, increasing its existing rail fleet to nearly 100 vehicles.

The team aimed to build a fleet that suited Network Rail’s requirements for both CP5 and the projected requirements for CP6. Four specially-tailored RRVs, a high-output wiring unit, a Colmar piling unit and a specialist HGV-mounted crane have added to Keltbray’s existing fleet and helped ensure that it is fully switched on to electrification.

“We predict that 70% of our rail work in CP5 will be within the electrification sector,” said Martin Brown. “We’ve definitely designed our fleet with the client’s requirements in mind. Effectiveness, together with flexibility, has been the key. For example, our crane can work ‘adjacent line open’, in line with the CP5 cost-saving model that Network Rail has implemented. It allows us to work at full capacity and still permit the TOCs to run trains.”

Introducing so many machines that haven’t been seen in the UK market before is bound to be fraught with ups and downs. Keltbray’s core machines were built in Sweden by SRS Sjölanders and Martin Brown notes that, although the result has been a new fleet of vehicles entering into the UK market, the procurement wasn’t always smooth sailing.

“There were naturally some cultural differences to overcome, but we’ve nurtured a really strong relationship with SRS,” he said. “Over the course of lots of contact between the team, and several trips to Sweden, we have managed to build ground-breaking new innovations into the vehicles that come from a constant cycle of improvements and different view-points.”

The Keltbray wiring unit, which is due to reach the UK in the coming months, has posed particular challenges. Half of the machine has been fabricated in Sweden and half in Germany but it is now at the stage where the two parts are due to meet as one for the very first time. “It’s nerve-wracking,” laughed Martin, “but all of the engineers involved are great, so we have no doubt that it’ll all fit together beautifully! This machine will be the very first of its kind in the UK, so we are keen to get it put together and working so we can see exactly how well it performs. It’s challenges like this that has made preparation for electrification so exciting!”

As well as taking the opportunity to extend the technology available to the market, a new Control Period heralds an ideal opportunity for a round of upgrades and refurbishments. Keltbray has undertaken a substantial programme, helping to repurpose its existing rail fleet to suit the new electrification slant.

“We’ve invested £1 million in a rolling upgrade programme, taking place over 18 months. We are refurbishing a substantial amount of our existing kit, ensuring that not only does it comply with all current legislations, but it also suits the changing needs of our customers,” said Martin. “Elmec is doing all of the upgrades,

and everything bar the chassis, every nut, every bolt, is being replaced, so every machine is in line with RIS-1530-PLT Issue 5. The first of the upgraded machines has just come back into circulation and it’s looking great.”

Green power

The new vehicles certainly have all the gadgets. But can such innovative new products provide a cost effective option to the customer? Martin Brown believes so, and feels that this dynamic new fleet provides the very best option to both the client and supplier.

“All of the new electrification vehicles drive on the road, so there is no additional transport costs to the client,” said Martin. “Our operators are all HGV trained, so they will drive and operate the machine on the same shift. This approach helps us deliver obvious cost-efficiencies and environmental benefits by taking additional vehicles off the road, and hopefully gives a smoother service to the customer by cutting out a transport division.”

Taking vehicles off the road is a key point to the fleet, with many of the new machines’ selling features offering opportunities to provide this option. Additionally, the new vehicles are all capable of carrying 1.5 tonnes of material, meaning they are able to transport much more to site over fewer trips – further reducing the amount of vehicles on the road and easing the pressure for both customer and supplier.

In addition to metaphorically lightening the transport load, the vehicles are designed to physically lighten loads for the operators too.

All machine baskets are designed to hold three people – one operator and two operatives – rather than the traditional two. This provides a safety benefit with regards to manual handling and reduces the risk of one person overstretching their lifting capacity. The manual handling lift capacity is set at 25kg, but many tools/materials weigh considerably more so having two operators on hand to share the load minimises the risk of any unsafe lifts.

Passing on the buzz 

With so much new kit coming in, Keltbray was faced with the situation many organisations are wrestling with at the moment – lots of work, great new machines and the desperate need for an injection of fresh talent to help complete the projects. With this in mind, the team launched a successful apprenticeship programme from its electrification base in Crewe. The organisation currently has 38 apprentices working within the scheme.

“We’ve developed a very good relationship with the South Cheshire College, which works very closely with our Crewe depot. They allow us to take our machines in and go and talk about electrification and raise interest among the students. We’re very proud of it,” said Martin.

The team at Keltbray is keen to ensure that apprentices are not just sat behind a desk, watching the action happen all around them. Not only do the apprentices move around internal departments throughout the course of their 18-month stint, allowing them to get a thorough overview of what both Keltbray and a career in rail are all about, the training team also ensures that they gain real life experience.

“The West Coast main line contract has provided us with a great training ground for our apprentices,” Martin explained. “We’re working with brilliant teams there, and the work usually isn’t too complex as the teams are all very competent, so the apprentices are really able to get involved on site. It gives them a well rounded view of how we operate as a company within a busy infrastructure, which isn’t something you get from ‘ordinary’ training.”

What’s next?

With a brand new fleet, an apprentice scheme producing the new rising stars of the industry, and even a new OHL training centre due to open its doors at the Basildon depot in August, the power switch is definitely turned all the way up on Keltbray’s Electrification division. However, there’s more to come.

“We’re aiming to become the Amazon of electrification,” laughed Martin. The organisation’s new venture is to break into materials fabrication, with a team based out of the Crewe depot. Customers will be able to order parts online, then the Keltbray team will pre-fabricate them and ship them out. Becoming a bespoke manufacturer of the component parts involved in major electrification projects would ease the pressure of sourcing non-standard parts and ensure that spares or repairs can always be sourced.

“Due to our innate understanding of this market, and our quality of staff, we think this is a logical next step,” said Martin. “We really think we can provide a great service, and save our clients a lot of money.”

Efficiency and service, could we be foreseeing the buzzwords of CP6 already?