The collapse of Carillion on 15 January 2018, strictly a ‘trading liquidation’, had a number of ramifications for the rail industry. Faced with the possibility of work on several key projects simply stopping, PwC, the Official Receiver’s special manager, and Network Rail came to an agreement which ensured that PwC could pay employees’ wages for work done on and supporting Network Rail’s projects until after Easter, and also made arrangements to ensure rail employees were paid as normal in January for work done in January.

Carillion Construction employees working on and supporting Network Rail projects were encouraged to turn up for work as normal and continue to deliver their rail work and projects, secure in the knowledge that they would be paid by PwC for the work they did.

This was a major step forward as it kept work going for the benefit, not only of Carillion’s employees, but also its subcontractors and supply chain.

Electrification joint venture

A couple of the projects involved were electrification programmes being carried out by the 50:50 joint venture Carillion Powerlines. Both were relatively recent contract awards.

In November 2017, a £260 million contract over three years was awarded to the joint venture to undertake electrification of the route from Bedford to Kettering and along the branch line to Corby.

In Scotland, Carillion Powerlines had previously been awarded a £49 million contract to electrify the Shotts line between Holytown junction and Midcalder junction. To be completed in 2019, this would allow electric services to run between Edinburgh and Glasgow Central via Shotts, increasing capacity between Scotland’s two major cities.

The Shotts contract was increased by a further £11.6 million on 13 December 2017, to cover enhancements to stations on the 74km route. Two stations – at Livingston South and Breich – were to be completely rebuilt and platforms were to be extended at Carfin, Shotts and West Calder, enabling the introduction of longer trains on the route. Work on the stations element of the project was due to complete in autumn 2018.

The collapse of Carillion left the other half of the joint venture with a decision to make. The Austrian-based Powerlines Group has local subsidiaries in Austria, Germany, the UK, Sweden, Norway, the Benelux states, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic and employs around 1,200 people around Europe.

Having weighed up the options, Powerlines acquired Carillion’s 50 per cent shareholding and transferred Carillion’s employees to its UK subsidiary, SPL Powerlines UK.

Gerhard Ehringer, CEO of the Powerlines Group, commented on the move: “The takeover of the shares previously owned by our former UK joint venture partner is an important milestone for Powerlines Group in general, and in particular for the sustained development and positioning of our business in the UK.

“We now intend to work very closely with our customer, Network Rail, towards the successful completion of our projects. Personally, I am especially delighted to note that this takeover will enable us to secure the jobs of our employees on a long-term basis.

“SPL Powerlines UK managed to save almost 200 jobs that were at risk as a result of the liquidation of Carillion.”

As the two teams had already been working together, integration was relatively painless. Even so, the focus during the takeover and transition was to ensure continuity of works and provide stability and commitment to Network Rail to deliver the two major projects. Indeed, the transition has only resulted in the loss of a single shift of works, highlighting the strength of project control and high levels of staff engagement and focus during this difficult time.

Martin Hawley, managing director of SPL Powerlines UK, added: “These are both challenging and exciting times and delivers SPL Powerlines as a major contractor with the UK electrification business.”

Focus on Midland main line

The electrification of the Midland main line to Kettering and its Corby branch is intended to relieve over-crowding and reduce journey times on long distance services by reducing the number of calls at outer commuter stations, stimulating long-distance demand, both now and for the future, in order to deliver increased revenues. The introduction of higher-capacity electric rolling stock on the outer commuter services will make more efficient use of the new sixth train path per hour that will be introduced as part of the December 2019 timetable.

In addition, the switch from diesel to electric traction will reduce rolling stock operating costs, improve air quality and reduce the carbon footprint of rail services on this route, whilst also delivering passenger experience and journey time benefits for passengers.

SPL Powerlines UK will deliver 56km of new overhead line equipment between Bedford and Corby. This will necessitate the installation of new and upgraded power distribution and SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) and telecommunications equipment along with signalling immunisation works.

The main contract to design, construct and commission the electrification system commenced in October 2017 and the team is now deep into the design phase, with works progressing well on site. Enabling works are being completed, along with the installation of foundations and erection of OLE (overhead line equipment) masts.

Overall, the project scope for the electrification of the Midland main line includes:

  • The installation of over 2,200 OLE foundations and masts;
  • Erection of approximately 10km of lineside fencing;
  • New troughing routes to contain 120km of new fibre optic cable and 90km of new return screen conductor cable;
  • Running 200km of contact and catenary wiring;
  • Full commissioning of the electrification system.

Despite the ‘hiccup’ caused by the Carillion liquidation, work is very much on track. As of June 2018, 584 mast foundations had been installed against a forecast of 578, 172 structures (masts) erected – exactly the number predicted – and 118 twin-track cantilevers, seven more than was planned.

Shotts line

Work has also continued in Scotland. Over Easter, the Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Central line closed for 10 days as engineers widened and extended both platforms at Livingston South.

With the tie-in already completed at the western side of the project at Holytown junction, OLE equipment was installed in the Midcalder junction area, including 36 metal stanchions and other steelwork erected and multiple cables and wires run, the installation of PES (permanent earthing sections) and current jumpers, neutral sections and switches.

The wire runs in the junction were energised to complete section proving but the lines will be blocked to electric traction until full energisation of the route takes place in October 2018.

Through hard work, and a leap of faith by the Powerlines Group main board, the failure of Carillion has not markedly delayed the two important projects on the Shotts and Midland main lines. As work continues, Rail Engineer will be back again to review both in more detail.


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