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Spencer Rail: Focused Delivery

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As the end of Network Rail’s Control Period 4 draws ever closer, specialist engineering firms across the country are all looking to the opportunities in CP5. One of these is Spencer, a company that The Rail Engineer first came across building train depots such as the one at Etches Park in Derby. Now, Spencer Rail seems to be involved in a much wider variety of work, so it is a good time to find out more.

At the turn of the year, Spencer Group went through a reorganisation of its business, with Spencer Rail becoming its own entity as the parent company rationalised its business streams to better reflect the industries in which they sit.

Rail as an entity

Raj Sinha is Spencer Rail’s managing director. He explained the change: “Although Spencer has been a very well-known business in the rail sector for over 20 years, our journey in the last five years has been incredible. We grow stronger by the day in all that we do and this hard work and determination has been rewarded with some very prestigious, albeit challenging, programmes of work.

“Whilst we have one eye on CP5, there is an incredible amount of work still to be completed and we are working closely with Network Rail and our supply chain partners to deliver safely, on time, in budget and to a great quality. That has to be where our focus is right now.

“Over this past year, we’ve been developing our collaborative working approaches which have enabled us to better align our goals and expectations with those of our clients and this is certainly paying dividends. BS11000 is now an integral part of our business model and management structure. It is something that we have fully amalgamated into our working practices.”

While Spencer Rail could be considered relatively new to rail engineering, albeit with 20 years under its belt, it now has become an award-winning engineering and infrastructure company. From station upgrades in Scotland to electrification projects in Manchester, new chord creation in Ipswich to platform extensions in Wessex, the company has a strong order book.

Team building

Spencer Rail has several specialist in-house teams which focus on particular aspects of any project. The telecoms teams, for example, support project delivery on large multi-disciplinary works whilst also undertaking specialist works on operational communication networks and station information and surveillance systems (SISS).

The company also employs a large team of electrification and plant (E&P) specialists in design, management, engineering and delivery. This specifies, installs and maintains electrical infrastructure on national rail networks and includes experts in all three core E&P functions in the UK – contact systems, distribution and plant (which also covers protection and control systems).

The team has worked on depot facilities, stations, interchanges and bridges and can boast expertise in line side signalling and permanent way. It has constructed new chords, including ground improvements and earthworks embankments for new track and overhead line equipment (OLE). While now considered a total rail infrastructure company, an extensive heritage of civil engineering ensures complementary buildings and ground works can also be delivered to the same exacting standards.

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Control centres and ROCs

In 2006, Spencer was contracted to build the first UK signalling control centre, eventually completing three of these first generation facilities – East Midlands, West Scotland and Thames Valley. Following on this success, and as Network Rail further developed its programme to concentrate all of its signalling and control for the network into 14 rail operating centres, Spencer was awarded the contract to deliver the first of the second generation ROCs at Three Bridges in Crawley.

“We’ve been pleased to be a partner in the delivery of these control centres which will become the heartbeat of the rail network for years to come,” Raj Sinha commented. “It really enables us to apply some of our traditional engineering experience whilst also giving us a unique insight into every aspect of rail industry operations.”

Larger contracts, more responsibility

As the company developed, so too have the packages of work. Currently a large team is based in the company’s new London offices in Waterloo with a site office in Sunbury completing the £30 million Wessex Package 7 platform lengthening programme across 57 station sites.

Delivered in four-station batches, with more than 2,500 metres of platform being constructed, Spencer Rail is responsible for the sees all components carried into position manually, mitigating the requirements for heavy plant and reducing the wet trades. This is achieved through the use of mini-piles, steel frame and GRP decking – a method which saves time and money.

Access for All

Spencer Rail’s London teams are also focusing on platform lengthening and station upgrades to Putney, Wokingham and Thornton Heath stations, the latest to be built under the Access for All (AfA) scheme. However, this programme has also seen Spencer Rail involved at other sites around the country. Upgrades have been completed at Dalmuir, Cheadle Hulme, Marple, Northfield and Selly Oak while work is still under way at Carlisle, Dalmarnock, Berkhamsted, Hemel Hempstead and Leighton Buzzard.

Work is now starting on several West London line station upgrades. Spencer Rail has, under the existing MAFA (multi asset framework agreement), been appointed to carry out platform extensions and install the associated infrastructure and services at Clapham Junction, Imperial Wharf, Shepherds Bush, West Brompton, Watford Junction, Norwood, Purley and Kensington Olympia.

A few of these station improvements have developed into larger projects. Gravesend railway station in north Kent, for example, runs many commuter services operated by Southeastern. The station is 24 miles (38 km) from London Charing Cross and currently has two central through-lines for freight trains and peak-time, non-stopping passenger services. It also has Up and Down loops serving two platforms.

When high speed (HS1) services to London St Pancras International were introduced in December 2009, the station became a major interchange for metro and high speed services. A team from Spencer Rail, under programme director Tom Kerins, has been brought in to deliver a substantial alteration to the track- layout for a new platform and to extend the current platforms to accommodate 12-car trains. The bulk of this work will take place during a 15 day blockade over Christmas. A new footbridge and lifts to all platforms will also be installed as part of AfA.

Ipswich chord

In total contrast, the Ipswich Rail Enhancement Programme is part of a larger project to upgrade the cross-country freight route from Felixstowe to Nuneaton via Ely, Peterborough and Leicester. The new 1.4km chord, north of Ipswich goods yard, will link the East Suffolk line and Great Eastern main line. It will remove the need for freight trains travelling to and from the Port of Felixstowe to use the sidings adjacent to Ipswich station as a turning point, eliminating a major bottleneck on the busy Great Eastern main line and freeing up capacity for both passenger and freight services.

Construction of the new chord includes the widening of the embankment carrying the Great Eastern main line, the reconstruction and widening of the bridge over Sproughton Road in Ipswich, a new railway bridge across the River Gipping, a new railway embankment on the south-eastern side of the river and reconstructing the existing railway bridge carrying the East Suffolk Line railway over the river.

Spencer Rail will create a new 250,000 tonne embankment, almost three miles of new track, 28 new OLE structures and a vast array of signalling and E&P telecommunications infrastructure while managing four new or replaced bridge structures.

It is a major project, valued by Network Rail at £41 million and designed to take 750,000 lorry journeys off the road every year. However, Spencer Rail hasn’t taken its eye off smaller, but no less important projects, as Raj Sinha explained. “We’ve had some great successes on huge infrastructure projects such as Ipswich Chord, but then we have also been able to work on smaller, more specific initiatives such as the Sudbury project.”

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Sorting Sudbury

And the Sudbury project was indeed a great success, recently being highly commended in the Network Rail Partnership Awards.

The solution was created after a tragedy at a level crossing. The crossing in question was on private land and controlled to gain access to a sewage works. The works operator holds a key to the crossing gates, but drivers of vehicles are required to telephone through to Liverpool Street Integrated Electronic Control Centre (IECC) to request permission to cross.

It is a single block line with eight UWCs (user worked crossings) along an eight-and-a-half mile stretch of track. At the point which Spencer Rail became involved, the only time the signallers knew the precise position of the train was when it was either in station at Sudbury or Mark Tey.

Those wanting to cross would contact the signaller for permission to cross, which would be based on journey times calculated on the speed of the train and the distance between the two points.

Spencer Rail delivered a GPS tracking system which was installed, commissioned, tested and live within a month. The company installed a server which houses all the software in the background to carry all the dataflow from a sophisticated GPS tracking system. Signallers were then given access to a computer screen which details the exact position of the train and a traffic light colour coded system to not only easily pin-point the position of the train, but immediately see if it is safe to cross.

After 12 months in operation, the system has recorded a 96 per cent operational efficiency, not discounting days where the line is not being used and has been rolled out on a permanent basis.

“We were very pleased to be recognised at the Network Rail Partnership Awards for this particularly complex and difficult assignment,”

Raj commented. “I think looking at this solution probably exemplifies our approach to engineering. It’s about supporting Network Rail to make the railways safer, more efficient and more effective through innovation and creativity. We employ the best people in the best positions to not just deliver solutions such as this, but devise them in the first instance then see them through to conclusion.

“One of the great benefits we have as well is the support and engineering experience of our parent company. Spencer Group gives us far greater resilience, knowledge and expertise.”

Greater collaboration

These recent milestones have been supported by an open and honest approach to working closely with key supply chain partners to create a collaborative ethos. Spencer Rail has been pioneering this collaborative approach to business, not only by working closely with strategic partners at supply chain level, but also by adopting an inclusive method of working with Network Rail and those train operating companies that are involved in the projects it is tasked with delivering.

Charlie Spencer, CEO of the Spencer Group, said: “I began the business in 1989. Across the years we’ve diversified and added to our experience and expertise, continually looking to develop as a business – standing still isn’t something we do at Spencer Group.

“Our rail business is packed with tremendously talented individuals and teams. We are all proud to see how it has developed across the years. Safe and solid delivery remains absolutely critical to the future of our business and everyone understands how important the coming few weeks and months are for all of us.

“While I’m pleased with the work our own teams have completed, I know that without the ongoing support of colleagues across the supply chain and from within Network Rail, none of the successes we have had – and hope to continue to have – would have been possible.”


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