David McLoughlin joined Spencer Rail as chief executive officer in April 2014. Previously finance and commercial director at Network Rail, he has more than 30 years in the industry. Spencer Rail has seen turnover increase to around £150 million in the last 18 months. Simon Taylor reports David McLoughlin’s reflections on a busy three months at Spencer Rail.
‘Last year saw Spencer Rail involved in some of the industry’s more challenging projects, including the 15-day blockade to deliver the complicated Gravesend station remodelling project. With the Ipswich Chord project now delivered and Wessex Package 7 and Putney AFA reaching a conclusion, our operational focus remains on the successful delivery of a number of other high- profile projects that are currently underway.
‘Work as part of the major civils programme on the East Kent re- signalling project is now well into delivery. Over Easter, Spencer Rail slid in a new underpass using brand new, industry first, technology.
‘An 800-tonne pedestrian subway, which will form part of the new station at Rochester, was built off line and adjacent to the existing rail embankment. It was then installed during a 96-hour blockade over the Easter period.’
Cushion of nitrogen
‘The reinforced concrete subway, which is 28 metres long, 7.6 metres wide and 4 metres high, was slid 36 metres into place after Spencer Rail had excavated through the embankment the previous day. The team used 10 jacks to lift the structure off the ground by 100mm. Each jack was bolted to a compressed nitrogen pad, which ran along a steel skidway, with each pad then being pressurised with nitrogen gas. The pads then acted like a mini-hovercraft, riding on a cushion of nitrogen along the skidway.
‘This resulted in a greatly reduced friction between the subway and the skidway, meaning that a pushing force of only eight tonnes was required to slide the structure into place.’
‘Installing the subway was an extremely important and challenging aspect of the works at Rochester and it is testament to the expertise, forward- thinking and hard work of our team that we completed the installation successfully.
‘Moving such a large structure into place presented us with a number of logistical challenges but by using innovative technology, it was completed without incident and ahead of schedule. It was the first subway slide of this type carried out in the UK using this technology.
‘We also have a number of other major projects underway at Ipswich Yard, New Cross Gate on behalf of Transport for London (TfL), Package 707, West Yorkshire Growth and Wemyss Bay and we are delighted to learn that two of our projects at Edinburgh Waverley and Dalmarnock have been shortlisted at this year’s Scottish Transport Awards.’
Investing in our 400 people
However, whilst the last few years have been exceptional for building Spencer Rail’s portfolio and reputation within the rail sector, McLoughlin recognises that evolution is essential if the company is to keep up with the industry’s leading rail infrastructure providers.
‘Safety has been and always will be our top priority. This needs to run through all that we do like a golden thread, but the modern day industry leader also needs to keep collaboration, innovation and value creation front and centre at all times.
‘Maintaining an annual portfolio of between £100 million and £150 million will be a challenge. We must continue to invest in our 400 people so that we can keep on delivering a quality and value-for-money service at all times. We know that being a great employer makes us a great organisation to do business with – one that makes a social and economic difference to the people we serve now and in the future.
‘We have assessed and recently introduced a new recruitment and selection process and employing the best people and offering packages that compare with those who are considered to be the market leaders, will stand us in good stead.
‘We want and need people who can and will take us forward by delivering a great service consistently well. Our current team, and those we might employ in the future, will need to continue to be solutions focused – using traditional methods and looking for new ideas to deliver services that result in the right solutions for the likes of Network Rail, TfL, etc. so that their customer experience is always the best that it can be and, in turn, their customers and the general public benefit greatly.’
David McLoughlin believes the challenge is to follow through on great ideas. That is, however, something that Spencer Rail has always had a strong reputation for doing – and something that Spencer Group’s chairman and founder, Charlie Spencer, has encouraged since the company was formed some 25 years ago.
Savings in excess of £2 million on the Wessex platform extensions, pioneering work on the Close Call system as well as the introduction of a new and innovative wireless tracking system on the ground-breaking Sudbury project – an industry-first in Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology to help make an eight-mile stretch of railway line substantially safer – are just three very small examples.
‘Some people and organisations struggle in today’s economy to throw off the negativity and rekindle the bold spirit that fuelled their passion in the first place. Obstacles and challenges are healthy for everyone, not just the leaders in today’s rail industry. They force you to think outside the box, so to speak – to be creative. Having worked for Network Rail for as long as I did, I know that new thinking, new ways of doing things, new ideas, innovation and value creation are all things that are important to them. They are our biggest rail customer and we must listen, learn, adapt and act where we can. We must make a real difference to the travelling public and the freight operators’ customers if we are going to be successful.’
David was formerly the finance and commercial director for the Infrastructure Projects division within Network Rail and started his career in York where he is pictured. Having moved back to the area, and since joining Spencer Rail, he has started to reshape the business, working with the Spencer Group Board, to identify opportunities and develop new relationships not only with Network Rail but also other first tier infrastructure companies.
‘We have performed well as a first tier business partner to Network Rail and there will undoubtedly be more programme and project opportunities to continue this good work in the future. However, I believe that we also have a lot to offer our principal contractor counterparts across the UK.
‘Our extensive experience, expertise in the individual disciplines of track, signalling, civils and infrastructure, E&P, OHLE and telecommunications could give other organisations the extra skills and capacity they need following the Government’s recent £38 billion investment announcement.
‘We have a reputation for being a very collaborative organisation. Our approach to daily life and in our business dealings are based on openness, transparency honesty and integrity. These are not just words. They are the things that help us to work more effectively as we play our part in improving Britain’s railways.
‘We are very keen to develop strong and robust partnerships, delivering superior results in all that we do for the people we serve. Our aim is to develop a long-lasting and effective collaborative relationship that benefits all of the organisations we work with and, ultimately, the end user.’
Spencer Group recently acquired a majority share in rail industry signalling experts Chase Meadow to form Chase Meadow Signalling (CMS). CMS, headquartered in Stratford upon Avon, provides specialised signalling solutions. The partnership aims to continue collective growth, formally integrating the skill base of both organisations, by offering a Design, Installation and Testing & Commissioning service. Specialist training will also add a new dimension to the service offering with plans to open a new training centre for tomorrow’s signalling experts in the Midlands.
‘This is a great opportunity for both Chase Meadow Signalling, Spencer Rail and the industry as a whole – this arrangement will certainly create greater capacity to help us offer more and do things better.
Ply their trade in rail
‘Training new engineers and the chance to give those who have lost work in other sectors the opportunity to ply their trade in the rail industry is something that really appeals to me. The Midlands is an area rich in engineering, manufacturing and electronic experience and expertise.
‘Signalling specialists are essential to any rail provider to ensure services run safely and smoothly. CMS will now also be able to offer tailored training to ensure this profession remains strong for many years to come. Since the privatisation of British Rail in the 1990s, specialised signalling engineers have dwindled in number with services being provided by a small number of private companies. Railway signalling is a very complex component of the rail industry and one that requires highly-skilled engineers to carry out the work. It is vitally important that we continue to train and retrain engineers to work on the UK’s rail network in the future.’
McLoughlin knows that he has a huge task ahead, but it’s one that he relishes.
‘It has been an interesting and very hectic introduction to the business. In my first few working weeks, I have been very impressed with the team here. They are highly skilled professionals with years of experience and a real desire to succeed. I have been pleasantly surprised by their commitment and the ideas and improvement suggestions that come in almost on an hourly basis.
As we gear ourselves up for the opportunities presented by CP5 and we forge new working relationships across the industry, I am putting new plans in place that will help to build on the good work that Raj Sinha, our Rail MD, has put in place in the last few years. This is an organisation that has delivered some solid performance that will stand us in good stead for the future and while we can always do things better, there is no doubt that we are in a good place.
‘I feel very privileged to be at the helm and charged with taking the business forward.’