Interviews

01.11.14

‘The ambitions of the rail industry have filled me with excitement’

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Oct/Nov 2014

Atkins’ UK rail business got a new managing director this summer – Philip Hoare, who previously led the company’s highways and transportation division. Now that he has his feet under the table, RTM spoke with him to understand more about how he sees its place in the market, new ways of working with client organisations, and the importance of HS2.

“I’m a civil engineer by background and I’ve been wowed by the size and scale of some of the civil engineering projects we’re doing,” Philip Hoare tells RTM.

Hoare has recently become top man at Atkins’ UK rail business, an important part of the wider company – which is huge, employing about 17,500 people across the world, working in 22 sectors and across 109 services.

The rail division is extensive in its own right, and is well-known for its recent and ongoing major projects across the country for Network Rail, Transport for London and Crossrail, as well as design and consultancy works for HS2. 

Hoare said: “I’m really pleased with our position in the market, and it’s a great market to be in.

“The level of expenditure in CP5 is huge, and obviously that creates a lot of opportunities for organisations to work closely with Network Rail in particular to deliver that programme.”

485 Electrification

Ambitions

Hoare went on: “It’s about more than that though: it’s about the ambition that’s there in rail in terms of upgrading and improving our existing network, the electrification programme, some of the really significant station projects, and then looking slightly further ahead: HS2 and Crossrail 2. You think, wow, what an exciting market opportunity we have, and from a UK plc perspective, there’s much to excite and encourage people into our industry and to talk about the difference we can make in terms of providing a better railway.

“Coming from outside the sector, you know these things are going on – but as you come into it and start to have conversations with people and look at the plans, you really get that sense of ambition that the industry has. It’s really filled me with excitement to be leading this business, and I'm fortunate to be here at a time when there’s such a great wealth of opportunities in the market.”

RTM spoke to Hoare the same week that HS2 was holding its Supply Chain Conference in London (coverage of the Manchester ‘leg’ is on page 26), and he acknowledged the importance of that scheme for the future.

He said the company will be seeking to bring some of its overseas high-speed rail expertise to bear on the project, and said it was a “very important” component of the company’s positioning over the next three to five years in terms of workload. Having secured a £13.3m preliminary design contract for 91km of the line design through the ‘Country South’ region in 2012, plus the environmental impact assessment for the ‘Northern Rural’ area, the company started as it meant to go on.

Last year, it published an influential report on alternatives to HS2 for the government. That report emphasised that there would be years of disruption to the classic networks if attempts were made to upgrade it to cope with future capacity, rather than building a new high-speed line.

Ways of working

Atkins is one of the four partners on the Staffordshire Alliance, with Laing O'Rourke, VolkerRail and Network Rail itself. RTM has covered this project extensively, and visited one of the sites earlier this year (report in RTM April/May 2014)

Stafford Area Improvements Programme, May 2014 IMG-16 resize

The ‘pure construction alliance’ approach is an interesting one that the wider construction industry is watching. The benefits of integrated delivery teams and trying to get away from the diversion of commercial, contractual back-and-forth can be seen all over the sector, and even in this edition – have a look at our report on the Metrolink extension on page 32 or the LU Bond Street upgrade on page 56, for starters.

Hoare said he expected to see more ‘Staffordshire-type’ collaborations with clients and contractors in the future.

Image 1 Piling works at Stafford, picture 12, 15th February 2014

“It’s a fantastic example. The team has come together to deliver better services more efficiently, and all of the partners are pleased with the way that’s headed. There are other opportunities currently in the marketplace – Wessex is a tender that we’re currently involved in that is adopting the alliance model, for example.”

Hoare suggested the size of the CP5 workbank will put pressure on resources. “It will be difficult and a challenge; in certain areas we have restrictions on resources at the moment.

“Collaborating across organisations, as well as with the supply chain and with our clients, will be really important to ensure we hit delivery targets.”

He gave the example of the signalling framework that Atkins is part of. In 2012 it was named one of three suppliers to Network Rail across signalling projects worth a potential £400m to Atkins over seven years (assuming Network Rail exercises its option to keep extending the contract annually throughout CP5). It was named ‘primary contractor’ for the Anglia & Kent and Sussex & Wessex areas.

IMG 1368 resize 635513206371262000

Hoare said: “We’re currently working with the signalling part of Network Rail Infrastructure Projects to deliver an alliance – not an alliance contract, but we’re working together in what we’re calling the ‘southern signalling partnership’. That means: best person for the job no matter which organisation they’re from, and trying to create a single integrated project delivery unit to ensure projects are delivered efficiently and quickly, and problems are dealt with in a mature way. That’s something under development at the moment and that looks very promising.

“It’s not a contractual mechanism binding that together, but a desire by all the people involved to work in a different way, which is great.”

Technology and approvals

Atkins is also developing the technology to bring a third interlocking system to the UK signalling market. “We’ve been working on that for some time and we’re continuing to work on the business case development to introduce that technology to the UK market. We’re in discussions with Network Rail and the routes on how that will work.”

Some units are being tested on live sites, and Atkins says it is looking to use the product for the first time on a “real job” in 2016. Hoare spoke of the need to balance the pace of technology introduction with the safety and standards side.

But he noted that there are 7,000 of the GE ElectroLogIXS units in use around the world, 1,400 in Europe, so they are not brand new.

Asked how he found the regulatory and standards environment in rail, having come from a highways background, Hoare told us that he understands why things have to be different in rail, and the vital importance of passenger and workforce safety.

“The UK has the safest network in Europe – it’s fantastic to hear that, and clearly we want it to stay that way. So we have to be incredibly careful with whatever we do. [But] what we shouldn’t do is allow that focus on safety to inhibit or frustrate in any way the desire to bring new technology into the UK rail network.

“Look at Network Rail’s and [chief executive] Mark Carne’s vision for the digital railway – looking to accelerate that and move across to an ETCS/ERTMS controlled network by 2029 – that’s going to require different thinking.

“There’s no relaxation on safety as far as I’m concerned, but it’s about being more open, flexible and agile, accepting new ideas, and looking at how we fast-track those into implementation.”

Safety

Safety, like collaboration, seems to be on everyone’s lips these days – and that’s all to the good. Hoare said he feels a sense of responsibility leading the rail business, as he did when leading the highways work, knowing that people are being put at risk everyday just by working in those environments.

“It really does bring home the responsibility we have as employers and as an industry to look at workforce safety and accountability for that.”

IMG 0419

He is a strong backer of Network Rail’s reforms under its ‘Planning and Delivering Safe Work’ programme, discussed in detail in the August/September 2014 edition of RTM, especially the ‘safe work leaders’ concept.

He said: “Having a single person responsible both for the work being delivered and for the safety of the people undertaking that work is absolutely critical. That’s the way the highways market works.

“This division of safety and task responsibility that currently exists in rail feels quite alien to me.”

Skills

Rail is a great sector to work in, but with a looming skills shortage, we need to ensure more people, and especially young people, realise that.

Hoare was keen to stress the “massive amount” that Atkins is doing on skills, from schools to apprentices to diversity to its graduate scheme.

But he said: “The question I’d ask myself – and I don’t know the answer – is: are we [as an industry] doing that in a joined-up enough way? We’re all behind it as individuals, but collectively as an industry, do we punch our weight?”

He said he has not yet had the time to look into it deeply, but suggested that more standardised engineering apprenticeships, giving more freedom, might be one way to go – with less time spent tailoring courses at an early stage.

Size and scale

Although he has only been in the role for a matter of months, we wanted to know what projects had particularly grabbed Hoare’s attention. Three he wanted to highlight were Birmingham New Street, where Atkins is lead designer (see page 62); the Staffordshire Alliance because of the collaborative relationships; and Great Western electrification for its scale and engineering complexity.

RTM will continue to update readers on those and other projects in future editions.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

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