The future may be digital, but rail remains a people industry. High- quality operatives, appropriately trained, qualified and safety-approved, will always be the lifeblood of rail projects large and small, to serve the needs of the travelling public.

Digitisation is changing all industries, including rail. As a commercially focused entity, the railway is now able to utilise a variety of digital alternatives. Trains are controlled using digital signalling and traffic management systems, passengers buy digital tickets and are kept informed by digital information systems. Even train maintenance is now planned using digital asset information.

Specialised workforce

All aspects of rail are changing, and the industry is having to adapt to keep up with demand – and to drive innovation wherever possible. One constant is that quality people will always be needed to implement the hardware necessary to bring about the required improvements. As a result, labour supply companies also have to adapt, and that is bringing increasing specialisation.

Originally founded in 1985 as Scotweld Employment Services Limited, SWGR operates from several service centres throughout the UK and worldwide and is managed from a purpose-built headquarters in Glasgow. The organisation was originally founded to supply manpower services to the oil and gas sector, later diversifying its core offering to the rapidly growing rail market in the mid-1990s.

Over the past 30 years, SWGR has accommodated a number of professional people services, from labour provision through to training, occupational health, specialist services and minor works. Today, the organisation has a vast, international client base with high levels of customer retention and a focus on quality of delivery in all areas.

The company’s uncompromising commitment to sourcing people with the requisite skills and experience is illustrated in the Winchburgh Tunnel project, a key link in the Scottish government’s Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP), delivering 150km of electrified railway. Overall, around 900 individuals worked on the tunnel – some of whom came from as far afield as Norway and Sweden – completing the project in just 44 days between 13 June and 27 July 2015.

Of those 900 workers, 53 were singled out for special commendation for undertaking vital track and slab work. Some worked many more than five shifts. SWGR was proud to have supplied all 53 workers.

Supplying Scotland

Resourcing the right people is the cornerstone of projects in the rail industry, and is the core part of SWGR’s business. The company is currently the possession management contractor for the Scotland route for Network Rail, providing safety critical staff and possession support services. As a result, SWGR’s possession teams are made up of the kind of highly trained, experienced and dedicated professionals that the multiple disciplines within the rail industry require.

As part of its contract, the company has built up a local knowledge database to ensure that the controllers of site safety (COSSs) and engineering supervisors (ESs) it chooses have the local knowledge to keep everyone on the project safe while implementing a safe system of work (SSOW) in the correct manner. It’s a system that pleases SWGR’s customer, Network Rail.

“I’m extremely happy to report that Period 5 has now finished and has been delivered with no instances of irregular workings,” commented Craig Milne, Network Rail’s senior operations delivery manager. “We managed 475 possessions in the period with over 8,300 man hours required to deliver them – and we have not had a single safety issue. This is a fantastic result, well done.”

OHL Specialism

With all of the electrification work that is currently being undertaken around the network, skilled resources are scarce and skilled workers are in demand. As a result, SWGR’s overhead line (OHL) division has seen particularly strong growth since it was established in 2006.

The company’s head of electrification, Frank Tierney, explained the reasons behind the division’s success: “At the moment, the biggest contract SWGR’s OHL division is working on is our five-year contract with Network Rail, and we are a tier one supplier in seven of the company’s nine regions. This has led to us being the main supplier for OHL work across the whole of the UK, working very closely with Network Rail, particularly in Scotland, and supporting all of its isolation and OHL maintenance work.

“Right now, we have offices in Rochester, Bristol, Derby, Manchester, Carlisle and Glasgow, and we are looking to open another office in Birmingham to assist with some of our larger nationwide contracts. This will also mean we will be hiring another OHL delivery manager to expand our highly experienced team, helping to develop the division to its full potential.”

Training and development

In one of the most safety-critical industries in the world, it is crucial that all railway operatives have the necessary training and qualifications to carry out their jobs competently and safely. Therefore, training and development is integral to SWGR’s business and includes rail qualifications, welding and occupational health services.

The company’s training services division is a fully licensed provider of Network Rail training and assessment courses, from personal track safety (PTS) training to senior person in charge of possession (SPICOP) training.

As the emergency services may be required to attend incidents on or near to railway infrastructure, SWGR’s training division approached the Ambulance Service and arranged for a number of its workers to attend the company’s training facility in Glasgow for specialist up-skilling. This kind of initiative broadens the capabilities of emergency services workers, making them an even more vital resource in times of need.

SWGR Training Services also supplies occupational health services both internally, across the group business, and externally for clients. Meanwhile, the Welding Services division focuses on the development of practical welding capabilities, helping rail workers to achieve current European and American standards.

Specialised yet versatile

Whilst SWGR’s core offering remains in supplying (and training) professionals for multi-disciplinary rail projects, its services have expanded to encompass the wider built environment and infrastructure sectors, including construction, engineering and energy. The company now supplies experienced and skilled site personnel for building, construction and civil engineering projects; professional, technical and skilled trades for mechanical, electrical, structural and process engineering projects; and highly skilled and certified personnel for renewables, oil and gas, power generation and distribution, utilities and HV projects throughout the UK and overseas.

Focusing on the present-day rail industry, some of the most significant projects in history are in progress, involving a huge number of contractors. SWGR has recently been credited with providing services to well-known projects including the Borders Railway, significant packages of EGIP (Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme), including Winchburgh Tunnel and Queen Street Station, and the Ipswich Chord in East Anglia.

Investment in the country’s rail infrastructure looks set to continue, as the Government seeks to put the UK amongst the world’s best, and SWGR aims to become known as the industry’s first port of call for rail personnel with the skills, training and experience to help make this happen.