When rail projects hit the headlines for positive reasons, it is nearly always the big-ticket items - station rebuilds, new railway lines and re-openings, the sort of passenger-friendly stories that capture public interest.
The smaller projects that keep Britain’s railway moving often end up in the news only when they go wrong. But it’s these bread and butter projects that really do need shouting about more often - without maintenance and renewals projects, enhancements could never happen.
AMCO Rail is an expert in those essential behind-the-scenes jobs. It’s possible that many may never even have heard of the company, because its primary focus is on the kind of engineering work that happens in the background, but which is essential for a reliable railway.
AMCO Rail is part of Renew Holdings plc. Through a group of independently branded companies Renew provides a range of multidisciplinary engineering services to essential UK infrastructure, including the energy, telecommunications, rail and water sectors.
From its early roots as a regional specialist mining and tunnelling company, AMCO Rail has grown to become one of the UK’s leading multidisciplinary railway engineering contractors, offering a wide range of services to railway infrastructure owners and operators across the country. AMCO Rail’s position as one of the leading players in the UK railway industry was confirmed in summer 2015, when Network Rail published its annual ‘Supplier Spend’ league table, showing AMCO as its fourth largest ‘Infrastructure’ supplier by spend. Currently AMCO Rail is delivering in excess of £180 million worth of works per annum for Network Rail.
But there are particular aspects that set AMCO apart from other engineering contractors, as Managing Director Andries Liebenberg explains: “Even though the company works in areas other than rail, our staff working on rail projects have specific rail experience - everyone is the right person for the job, rather than individuals working without a focus across many engineering disciplines. “
“We have around 400 site operatives and the same number of site management and support staff working at AMCO, and all of them have PTS (Personal Track Safety) training. Because our staff are directly employed, they take pride in the company they work for and establish real ownership for the projects they work on.”
That ownership allows for devolution to be another key aspect of AMCO’s ethos. People on the ground make the key decisions, ensuring that the customer is always put first.
An award-winning illustration that the customer is always king is AMCO’s London North Western Route civils asset management project, which won Maintenance Team of the Year at RAIL’s National Rail Awards in September.
This was a shining example of AMCO’s maintenance work under a framework contract with Network Rail to close out all risks on all civil engineering assets across the LNW route.
Under the contract, AMCO responded to emergencies and carried out planned preventative maintenance work to rail infrastructure across the extensive 4,500-track mile route. The route encompasses 7,100 bridges, 290 tunnels, 764 level crossings and 52 sea defences. Maintaining it is a serious business.
The state of the structures on the route had become so poor that 1,100 schemes were needed to bring them all back to a state of good repair. This involved a programme across 2,900 worksites, and was completed within possessions, with no overruns and no RIDDORS or lost time accidents in more than eight years of work.
Importantly for the ongoing relationship with NR, the success of the project helped NR to achieve its Regulatory Composite Reliability Index (CRI) target for the start of Control Period 5, reducing the risks of structure closures.
NRA judges were hugely impressed by the project: “The process to deliver these achievements over such a large intensively-used railway is impressive. Despite the size of the programme, the team demonstrated a strong commitment to work with other agencies and the community bordering on the railway.”
Nor was this the first time AMCO had been recognised with an award for its work. In 2014, the company won the NRA Civil Engineering Achievement of the Year award for its work to deliver the Holme Tunnel reconstruction.
Holme Tunnel had become a 160-year-old deteriorated danger zone. Built in 1849, it had undergone several stages of strengthening work over the years. But these had merely bought time before something serious needed to be done - a 20mph speed restriction was in place, and movement in the surrounding ground was causing further damage.
A major reconstruction programme by AMCO and Network Rail was started, with the following aims:
- To reinstate the tunnel’s structural integrity.
- To allow the return of a normal asset management regime.
- To provide W8 gauge width standard clearances.
- To restore the original 45mph line speed.
As with many of the other projects AMCO has worked on, the figures involved were quite staggering.
Over 308 accident-free days, AMCO used 2,400 tonnes of fibre-reinforced concrete, 650 tonnes of pre-cast concrete, 400 tonnes of steelwork, 2,800 tonnes of ballast, and 2,000 new sleepers to bring the veteran tunnel back to life. The project was delivered on time and on budget - in fact, it saved more than £1 million on the original budget, and reinstated the 45mph line speed.
But beyond the regular maintenance work that AMCO carries out, it has also been involved in some notable high-profile incidents, responding to an emergency and dealing with the aftermath.
The collapse of the Dawlish Sea Wall, which forced the closure of the South West Main Line, is a particularly high-profile incident that will remain fresh in everyone’s minds for years to come.
When storms forced 80 metres of the iconic Brunel wall into the sea on February 4 2014, followed by a further 20 metres ten days later, it was vital that South West connectivity was re-established.
AMCO’s emergency work to repair the hole played a major part in allowing the line to re-open in just two months. But it is the work that has been going on since that many people are unaware of - AMCO is building a secondary 340-metre protective sea wall to act as further safeguarding for the railway and local community.
It is this kind of work that is vital to the safe and reliable operation of the railway. While the causes of disruption are often spoken of, the engineers who work to ensure it happens as infrequently as possible rarely receive the credit they deserve.
AMCO’s success at RAIL’s National Rail Awards two years running is real recognition of that engineering talent, and a true indication that the dark horse of the industry is rapidly raising the stakes.
- This feature was published in RAIL 788 on November 25 2015