When Kier, a leading infrastructure services, buildings and developments and housing group, bought McNicholas last July, the company’s chief executive Haydn Mursell said it was “a highly complementary addition to our utility services business and enhances our presence in the power, rail and telecoms markets.”

A year on, senior operations manager Duncan Hall, who made the move with McNicholas, sees it as the final piece in the jigsaw for Kier’s rail offering.

Kier already has a huge amount of experience in the sector, covering major construction works – it’s currently working on Crossrail, an 80km section of HS2 and the Luton Airport Direct Air to Rail Transit (DART) scheme – tunnelling, signalling and asset management.

It has a principal contractor’s licence and full RISQS accreditation with Network Rail, allowing it to undertake all types of operational rail works. With McNicholas’s expertise in the installation and enhancement of power systems added to the mix, the rail sector now has a much fuller service to tap into.

The McNicholas legacy

McNicholas brought with it a wealth of successful delivery experience in major frameworks with Network Rail, Network Rail Telecoms, Crossrail and London Underground. Its expertise includes design, project management, telecommunications, heavy power, civil engineering, electrification and plant, lineside structures, route works and cabling. This includes a number of Network Rail frameworks.

“As a part of Kier, we see ourselves playing a major part in the power market in CP6 for Network Rail replicating and growing our existing footprint,” says Duncan Hall, who has more than 20 years’ experience in the rail industry, working with Balfour Beatty before McNicholas and now leading Kier’s power engineering delivery capability.

At the time of the acquisition, McNicholas was already on the Network Rail Infrastructure Projects (IP) South control period framework and tendering is currently taking place for the CP6 control period, which starts in April next year. This will include the £40 million Sussex Power Supply Upgrade (PSU) and various other power upgrade works.

“It’s now all about bringing McNicholas and Kier together under one banner and growing the business with a multi-discipline rail offering,” says Duncan. “Kier has always had more of a civils and signalling expertise, so combining it with McNicholas’s power expertise means we have a greater offering.”

Powerful offering

Kier’s rail team operates from offices at key locations across the UK, including London for Crossrail, Birmingham for HS2, Cardiff, Bury St Edmunds and its head office at Tempsford in Bedfordshire. It offers all the services required to install and enhance power systems across the rail network.

A 50-strong in-house design team focuses on delivering power solutions to meet Network Rail’s, and the railway’s, growing capacity needs. This includes electrification and plant (E&P), high voltage (HV) works and cabling, including switch gear renewals, feeder and pilot, installation, commissioning and recoveries; low voltage and signalling power supplies; lighting and distribution; electric track equipment; earth farms and points heating.

It’s the power work on the track that enables the rail network to operate and it’s an area spearheading advances in the sector. As far as the future for Kier’s multi-discipline rail offering, Duncan refers to it as “powering up rail for the next generation”.

Most pressing are issues caused by timetable changes that rail companies have had difficulty fulfilling. “More capacity is needed; eight-car trains should be 12, which requires platform extensions and extended power systems to cater for them.”

This type of project is already underway. Electrification work by Kier has enabled eight-car trains to be replaced by 10-car trains on the line from Reading to Waterloo, allowing additional capacity to London suburban stations from Reading.

The project included installing Electrical Track Equipment (ETE) across the route totalling 10km of traction feeder cable, 376 cable management sleepers, 77 track isolating switches, 24 Mk8 hook switches, 12 under-road crossings and 13 under-track crossings. As part of the project, the HV network was also reinforced with seven HV Feeders replaced, covering 47km.

Co-locating with National Rail during the project delivery helped improve decision making, benefitted project delivery and helped reduce costs. Kier also put an emphasis on safety, using Vortok fencing to create a ‘Green Zone’ to enable significant productivity gains and reductions to safety risk and costly operational disruption to railway services.

In this way, the team was able to install the new cable during the day without any disruption to services, saving on possession costs and eradicating issues such as tiredness associated with night-time working.

In addition, lightweight troughing reduced the need for manual handling and therefore potential injury. The risk of theft of the cable was also reduced, by shortening the time between when it was laid and when it was connected. Dedicated security teams patrolling the route reduced the risk further.

As with all Kier projects being good neighbours was paramount. Letter drops kept residents updated and town hall briefings took place in a number of affected towns. The team also got involved with the community by raising money for a local children’s hospice through taking part in a Three Peaks Challenge.

Signalling capability

Kier’s power capabilities go hand in hand with its signalling offering, which covers everything from design to commissioning. Since 1997, its team of skilled signalling specialists has developed an excellent track record of carrying out complex and technically challenging projects, working with clients from early contractor involvement through to design and build.

The company’s strength is in installing new technology in older existing railway environments on projects from feasibility studies to full design and build programmes, from £1,000 to £15 million. It is recognised in the industry for its expertise in relay route interlockings, solid-state interlockings including CBI (computer-based interlocking) data design, and all types of mechanical interlockings.

Recent projects in this field include coming up with a solution to keep the unelectrified East Suffolk line running after the Band III Private Mobile Radio frequency used to control trains via a Radio Electronic Token Block (RETB) system was allocated to the MoD. It was not possible to allocate new frequencies without undertaking a new safety case and obtaining new Network Rail product approval. The RETB system had to be replaced.

The East Suffolk Line runs between Ipswich and Lowestoft for passenger services operated by Greater Anglia and nuclear flask trains for the Sizewell nuclear power stations operated by Direct Rail Services. Train control on the line between Westerfield Junction and Oulton Broad North was achieved via the RETB system, which was installed in the 1980s as a cost-effective way of controlling trains with minimal lineside infrastructure.

Kier, as principal contractor, was responsible for the design, installation and commissioning including permanent way, civil, electrical, telecoms, signalling and systems. A conventional SSI (Solid State Interlocking) solution was used, which required a new signaller’s control system and Mk III SSI interlockings at Saxmundham Signal Box.

Axle counters were used in the ‘long section’ areas and track circuits within the station limits. A new passing loop was also installed at Beccles Station to allow an hourly train service.

Work has also been completed on increasing line capacity on the Brighton main line, which is quadruple track through most of its length, but is only double track between Balcombe Junction and Haywards Heath allowing just one train in the reverse direction every ten minutes.

The Kier team designed a new bi-directional signalling system to allow a minimum of six trains per hour to run in each direction. Additional wrong-direction signals were installed on both lines and a dual detection system was also provided for Balcombe tunnel.

Gearing-up for the future

In addition to major projects, the Kier rail team also delivers a wide range of civils and building work at stations and depots and is on many frameworks including the National Level Crossing Risk Reduction Programme, Civils Renewals, and British Railways Board as well as using its extensive in-house engineering capabilities to develop and implement detailed mechanical and electrical solutions for bridges and viaducts. It has particular expertise in mainlining existing structures through assessment, repair and strengthening.

As with any responsible twenty-first century organisation, Kier’s approach goes way beyond turning up, doing a job and leaving. It works hard to enrich the communities affected by rail works by providing jobs, interacting with schools, supporting local wellbeing and contributing to charities and voluntary organisations.

It also works hard to be a sustainable business, aiming to have a positive social and environmental value with every project, including using intelligent design to reduce the environmental impact of waste and emissions, aiming for a 10 per cent reduction in the carbon dioxide it produces by 2020.

With increased passenger numbers and demand for more lines and trains, Kier sees rail as a major growth area for the company, particularly with digitisation offering even more opportunities. This could not be achieved without its people, which it believes are its biggest asset.

For that reason, the company wants to continue to hire the best people and is working to encourage the next generation entering the workforce of the benefits of working in this sector. A campaign called Shaping Your World has been launched, to show the built environment in formats that Generation Z (11-15 year olds) can easily engage with, as well as challenging misconceptions about the industry. That way, it hopes to address the issue of skills shortage and continue to provide innovations well into the future.


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