The impending introduction of CP5 in 2014 will provide a wealth of opportunities to make improvements to the UK’s rail infrastructure. By Lawrence Dobie, Education and Training Director at Vital Services Group
With £4bn of the total £24bn investment allocated for the Rail Electrification Development Programme, there will be a significant need to recruit and train linesmen with the skills and qualifications to work on overhead lines.
It is estimated that there are currently in the region of 250 overhead line engineers in the UK, but that 2,000 will be required to deliver the CP5 programme. Add to this the fact that there are only 17 overhead line instructors across the country and the scale of the challenge comes sharply into focus.
Currently the OLE Construction (OLEC) standards define the minimum requirements for the assessment of engineers that work on the electrification infrastructure. The standards were launched in 2009 in response to inherent weaknesses in the OLE electrification of major projects, in particular in relation to staff competency and the need to improve quality and management logistics.
OLEC, developed by Network Rail in conjunction with the Railway Industry Association and its members, became mandatory in 2010. However, there have been growing concerns in the industry that a lack of policing has led to a failure to impose the standards, with a reliance on each contractor to implement and control its own systems.
Furthermore, many of these contractors have no in-house training capability and lack the resources and commitment to invest in the training of their people to ensure that the standards are maintained.
This is now set to change, with Network Rail placing a renewed emphasis on training, coupled with the integration of OLEC with Sentinel 2 to ensure monitoring and assessment of overhead line engineers to make certain that their skills and competencies meet the requirements of the standard.
The technology provided by the new Sentinel 2 system, set to be launched this summer, will equip Network Rail with the information to monitor staff training and ensure that they have the necessary qualifications to do their jobs in line with the standards. Using smartcards and smartphone technology, it’s likely that engineers will be assessed on a bi- annual basis.
Whilst these changes are to be welcomed as a great step forward for the industry, it’s imperative that there is a culture change in the sector so that today’s engineers become the managers and assessors of the future.
This can only be done if there is a shift in the way in which contractors view the critical role training has to play in shaping the future workforce to meet the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.