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Becoming a principal contractor for Network Rail

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Speaking to the rail engineer a couple of months ago (Issue 92, June 2012), Simon Kirby, managing director of Network Rail Infrastructure Projects, stated that one of his aims was to “open up the market to new suppliers”. Those new suppliers will naturally have to meet Network Rail’s high standards, but how is that process coming along?

Katie Ferrier is the head of supplier engagement for the infrastructure projects business, and she, along with assurance manager Graham Trueman, is driving through a supplier assurance system to bring those suppliers on board.

New suppliers tend to come to Network Rail from one of two routes. Companies can approach the procurement department looking for work, or sub-contractors can be recommended by Network Rail project managers or main contractors. In both cases, they end up with the supplier assurance team.

Audits and more audits

First step is for Achilles to conduct a core audit. This looks at management systems, safety and environmental protection arrangements, and produces an initial recommendation as to the suitability of the new company.

If favourable, one of Katie Ferrier’s sector-specific supplier assurance teams carries out its own audit. Primarily a desktop-driven exercise, including a gap analysis to examine the difference between the companies actual and expected performance, this includes a site visit. Recommendations and observations are made, and the most important are mandated to be addressed before the next stage. A second audit visit, to ensure that the comments have been closed out, will, if favourable, result in the company being granted a provisional principal contractors licence.

That licence qualifies the company to tender for jobs as they come along in the normal way. It does not guarantee success, as the tendering process is carried out by the procurement department who are divorced from supplier engagement, but it does enable the company to compete.

Once a first contract has been obtained, supplier assurance will arrange to audit the delivery process on site, and, following a stringent risk review, again make recommendations and observations. These will need to be addressed during subsequent contracts until, in the assessor’s opinion, everything is satisfactory and the company is ready to become a principal contractor.

With the infrastructure business being only a few months old, this whole procedure is still being adjusted to give the most effective results. As part of the development process, over 100 existing and potential contractors met at Network Rail’s Westwood facility near Coventry to be introduced to the new system and discuss how it can be fine tuned for the future.

New recipients

When a recent batch of new suppliers were to be awarded their contractors licences, the rail engineer was invited to Eversholt Street, London, to witness the event. Two companies had been through the whole process and were to receive principal contractors licences, while a further six were part way through and were being awarded provisional licences.

Katie Ferrier was joined by Dave McLoughlin, finance and commercial director, to present the certificates. Graham Trueman was present, as were his colleagues Leigh Dawkins, who is responsible for plant operators, electrification and track, Gillian Scott (signalling and telecommunications) and Alan Tillman (buildings and civils).

Katie explained the thinking and rationale behind the new sector specific auditing teams and commented: “The Supplier Engagement Programme exists purely to deliver a high performing supply chain. We are challenging suppliers to work with us by collaborating through effective assurance, performance management and continuous improvement programmes.”

Katie then reminded the recipients, which would now be looking to tender for contracts, to look at the new work bank planning section of Network Rail’s website and select which contracts they thought would best suit their capabilities.

Selected contractors

Two companies were presented with full contractors licenses. Tata Steel UK Rail Consultants Ltd is the design consultancy business of Tata Steel, the well-known rail manufacturer which also produces platform extensions and electrification gantries.

NDC Consultants Ltd qualified for its principal contractors licence following successful completion of the SPT Concentrator Renewals 11/12 project. This consisted of life extension works on the existing concentrator at Cathcart ECR and replacing existing crossing telephones with Public Emergency Telephone Systems (PETS) at nine crossings.

Cleshar Contract Services Ltd received a provisional licence. Having been established for 21 years, the company has successfully delivered almost £600 million worth of projects on local and national railway infrastructure and is currently turning over in excess of £70 million per annum with a fully trained skilled/multi skilled workforce of 1,200. Recent projects included a new signalling control centre for Docklands Light Railway, supporting Balfour Beatty on their Network Rail track renewals framework and supporting the Costain / HOCHTIEF joint venture at Reading.

Already an established contractor on London Underground, Tricia O’Neill, Cleshar’s commercial director, commented on the reasons for applying for a Network Rail principal contractors licence. “Foremost amongst these is our desire to demonstrate our commitment to the control of quality and safety assurances. With the on-going growth of the company, acquisitions and the further geographical spread of our activities, it is critical that we are in absolute control of all of the works we undertake.”

Coffey Construction, also receiving a provisional licence, is another established contractor having worked with Irish Rail for over 25 years. Simon Coffey explained: “We have worked on infrastructure and building projects, in the UK but outside the rail sector, since 1988, so it is a natural step to bring our rail expertise to the UK rail market.

“We have undertaken a wide range of railway building and civil engineering projects, such as the repair, strengthening and replacement of bridges, embankment stabilisations, platform extensions and station refurbishments. One of our key strengths is our multi-skilled direct workforce, which allows us to undertake all but specialist works without sub-contracting. The company is very much engineering-led, and we will be challenging our designers to work with us to examine innovative options in producing the best engineering solution for each project.”

Previous experience

Eric Wright Civil Engineering already has Link-Up approval covering 205 product codes in 65 product groups. The award of a provisional licence will allow the company to tender for construction projects in its own right. This was also the appeal for Alun Griffiths Contractors Ltd with over 44 years’ experience of civil engineering in Wales, the border counties and the West Country.

Alun Griffiths, with a turnover now in the region of £85 million, will be looking for work such as overbridges, station works, scour protection and footbridges.

Miller Construction Ltd has been working closely with clients outside the rail industry to establish recognition for its health and safety practices and procedures. Making the transition to a provisional licence holder was therefore a relatively straightforward step. In addition, the successful delivery of the £120 million Union Square shopping centre in Aberdeen depended on the company’s ability to work closely with Network Rail and First ScotRail.

Emeg Electrical was also presented with a provisional principal contractors’ licence, to the delight of managing director Richard Simmonite. Mechanical and electrical engineers specialising in the installation of depot equipment such as train washes, the hope is that direct contracts from Network Rail Infrastructure Projects will further develop the business.

So eight companies now have full or provisional principal contractors licences and are keen to show Network Rail Infrastructure Projects what they can do. We look forward to seeing them again as they do so, here in the pages of the rail engineer


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