Stobart Rail & Civils’ managing director looks towards CP6 and explains why the company is barking up the right tree with its latest venture
Stobart Rail & Civils was founded in 1993 as WA Developments and, since then, has grown by providing its clients with cost-effective and innovative solutions to the many engineering challenges faced by the rail civil engineering industry.
Operating alongside this core engineering capability, the wider Stobart business now includes an energy division, which is the number one biomass supplier in the UK. It has an aviation division, which owns and operates London Southend and Carlisle Lake District Airports, and its own airline, Stobart Air. Stobart is also the nation’s only railway station operator which isn’t either Network Rail or a train operating company.
Strength and depth
In the last 25 years, the business has established itself amongst Network Rail’s principal contractors and is preparing for another busy control period.
“The start of a new control period is always a time of change, with exciting new portfolios of work amounting to billions of pounds of vital investment,” said Kirk Taylor, managing director of Stobart Rail & Civils. “We’re looking forward to it. It’s always a challenge, of course, but that’s what we thrive on.”
Going into CP6, Stobart is already hard at work delivering several long-term frameworks with Network Rail and is also one of the partners delivering the Transpennine upgrade – the £10 billion investment that will revolutionise rail travel in the North with faster journeys and greater capacity.
Stobart’s business diversity is a strategic consideration and the culture it embraces has enabled it to respond to the sometimes challenging market conditions. “You’ve got to have strength and depth,” said Kirk. “Our leadership is constantly looking to the future and we invest heavily in R&D to find innovative solutions that help our clients achieve their objectives with unprecedented quality and value for money.”
A good example of this is Stobart Rail & Civils’ forestry business, which was set up two years ago. “We were already building a capability to provide lineside vegetation management for Network Rail, but we saw an under-utilised resource in the green material that was created.” said Kirk. “With the synergy of our biomass business, we’re now recycling this by-product to enhance Network Rail’s sustainability and deliver the best possible value.”
Building on this success, Stobart Forestry is now unlocking the potential of under-managed woodland throughout the UK by using an in-house developed technology solution to quickly survey and identify brash material (foliage and small branches accumulating on the ground) that would otherwise go to waste. By harvesting this for biomass fuel Stobart is creating value for landowners and making a major contribution to the UK’s green energy capability.
Think safety, act safely
Stobart Rail & Civils is already aligning its business to match Network Rail’s targets for CP6. Plant innovation is a key area where the business is pushing boundaries, having invested in designing and manufacturing new equipment to improve track maintenance capability and reduce whole-life costs. Industry-leading innovations, including ballast undercutters, self-contained jacker tamper units and tunnel soot removal machines, are out working every day across the network to complete tasks more safely and more cost effectively than ever before.
Promoting a positive safety culture throughout the industry is another target where Stobart and Network Rail share a deep-rooted commitment.
In 2016, Stobart Rail launched its ‘Think Safety, Act Safely’ initiative – a colourful safety campaign that conveyed important health and safety messages through a selection of animated characters placed in many common situations encountered while working on the railway.
“We already had a great health and safety performance, but from talking to our teams at the workface it was clear that there were things we could do even better. Our ‘Think Safety, Act Safely’ campaign helps focus attention on improving the way we all look at safety and how we relate to our personal responsibility for ourselves and those around us,” said Kirk.
“It’s gone really well. All the businesses that we work with really love it and have taken to it massively.
“It’s not just about health and safety, it’s thinking about what it’s like out there, working at night away from home, away from your family.”
“Many of us have grown and developed in the business,” said Kirk, who joined Stobart in the late 1990s as a plant operator.
Around 270 people now work for Stobart Rail & Civils. The business has what it calls its 3P (People, Performance, Progress) management and leadership development programmes which ensures staff are given the opportunity and support they need to fulfil their ambitions within the business.
Kirk said it was important for him that staff felt it was possible to start on the shop floor and progress into any role at any level that their talents and ambition allow.
Despite undergoing some considerable changes over the decades, Kirk said it still has that family business mentality.
“I’m extremely proud of the way we’ve grown the business and extremely proud of the way we’ve been able to carry through a number of people that originally started the business with us.
“It shows it’s a really good business and a nice place to work.”