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Getting ScotRail the projects it wants

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Kirsty Watson has travelled all over Scotland to make things better for ScotRail’s staff and customers. Her role as a project manager in ScotRail’s Programme and Transformation team includes ensuring that the train operator gets what it wants from Network Rail’s enhancement projects as well as managing ScotRail’s own buildings projects and third-party liaison.

Kirsty joined ScotRail in 2003 as revenue manager, managing ScotRail’s ticket examiners and revenue protection team, and was appointed to her current role in 2006. Around this time work started on the Airdrie to Bathgate (A2B) project, her first major challenge.

As well as reinstating 15 miles of double track railway between the two towns, this project double tracked much of the Bathgate branch and electrified the line from Airdrie to Bathgate and Edinburgh.

Ensuring that its eight new and rebuilt stations, as well as a new train depot at Bathgate, met ScotRail’s requirement proved difficult as the company’s detailed requirements had to be specified before the end of the project’s design phase – a year or so before the start of construction.

Challenging role

Indeed, Kirsty considers that the most challenging aspect of her role is to gain feedback from key stakeholders in sufficient time to be incorporated in the project design. This is because personnel who would use the new facilities are focused on daily operational issues and have to find the time to look ahead a few years and think about what they and the business need from a project.

The first passenger train on the new Airdrie to Bathgate line ran in December 2010 at a time of heavy snow. She felt the project team did well to begin timetabled services as scheduled in such conditions, although the snow did delay the opening of some intermediate stations. Kirsty remembers this time well, as this was when she found out she was expecting her daughter, Milly who was born in November 2011. Her fiancé Greg, one of ScotRail’s train drivers and is able to give her a useful driver’s perspective.

On to Borders

Following the completion of their project, Network Rail’s A2B project team moved to the Borders to start work on Scotland’s most high-profile rail re-opening project. Kirsty moved with them. In the last six months of the project to September 2015, she was mostly based at the project team’s office in Newtongrange.

The completion of the Borders project provided Kirsty with what she considers to be the most special part of her career as she was given the opportunity to travel on the royal special steam train hauled by 60009 Union of South Africa and meet the Queen when she officially opened the Borders Railway.

Kirsty has also worked on a variety of projects including those in the north of Scotland. Conon Bridge, with its 15-metre long platform, is on the far north line 16 miles from Inverness and opened in 2013. The old station at Forres closed and the new station there opened in October as part of the first phase of the Aberdeen to Inverness improvement project. This also included extended platforms at Elgin and the introduction of new signalling, replacing the token exchange system.

Millerhill Depot

RailStaff met Kirsty in December, a few days before the opening of ScotRail’s Millerhill Depot, just south of Edinburgh. This depot has seven 330-metre long roads with toilet emptying facilities and will service ScotRail’s DMUs and EMUs, including the new class 385 EMUs. It is a base for 22 vehicle presentation staff and nine depot operators, and has provision for drivers, engineering and winterisation equipment and services requirements and its accommodation block was modelled on that of the Bathgate depot.

Kirsty has been involved with this depot since its design and construction phase and clearly is pleased with the way that it has developed into a practical, well laid out facility.

With the completion of Millerhill depot, Kirsty is now involved with a new station building at Blairhill station, customer improvements at Dundee station with a new ScotRail lounge, new terrazzo and seating in the main concourse and a new lounge for Serco for the Caledonian Sleeper.

Next year’s focus will be on the design of major work to improve stations at Motherwell, Stirling, Inverness and Aberdeen, jointly financed by the Scottish Government’s station fund and Abellio ScotRail. She is also concerned with the blockade planning during the redoubling of 16 miles of track north of Aberdeen in 2019 as part of the Aberdeen to Inverness phase two work.

The fixer

To deal with her wide variety of work, Kirsty is clearly persistent, determined and organised. She says that this means writing “lots of lists” and stresses the importance of developing a close relationship with Network Rail’s sponsor and project manager.

“There have been some fantastic changes to Scotland’s railways in the past seven years,” said Kirsty. Many people have worked hard and well to deliver these projects. Those familiar with railway projects will be familiar with the roles of project teams and contractors. However, the role of a train operating company’s fixer, such as Kirsty, is perhaps less well known.

This article was written by David Shirres.

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