Rail Industry Focus

01.11.14

The journey from SME to tier 1 contractor

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Oct/Nov 2014

With £84m of CP5 framework contracts, Story is ready to start a new chapter, says Kevin Wharton, the company’s head of commercial development. Sam McCaffrey reports.

In September, Network Rail announced it had awarded £1.6bn of framework contracts to nine different suppliers for an extensive programme of enhancements and renewals to the LNW (London North Western) and East Midlands routes over the next five years.

Story Contracting won £84m of those contracts for earthworks, structures and property along the northern section of the LNW North route, from Preston to the Scottish border.

Winning the contracts came as no surprise to Story – it was only in July that it was named Network Rail’s ‘Supplier of the Year’ for 2013-14. When announcing the firm had won that award, Network Rail said: “When choosing a winner, it is easy to be attracted by the huge scale of some of the projects and the breadth of capability. But what is really important for us is safety, a customer focus and the ability to be responsive and collaborative, and that is why we have decided to give the award to Story Contracting, a company that has set high standards and plays to its strengths.”

The company also won ‘Best Small Project’ for its upgrading of the Merseyrail slab track at Network Rail’s Partnership Awards.

Story - DH Photographers-3265

Kevin Wharton, head of commercial development at Story, says that the young company (Story was founded in 1999) has developed its skills over the last 10 years as a specialist contractor, learning how to be efficient, how to deliver a job and how to work well with other businesses; and this has led to it becoming a fully-fledged tier 1 contractor.

“What we’ve found is that Network Rail like the way we work,” Wharton said. “They like the way we deliver our jobs, the way we use a lot of our own resources, that we use our own plant and our own men for a lot of what we do. We have this ethos of ‘doing it’; and if we do everything right, then we can’t really do better than that.”

One of the drivers behind CP5 for Network Rail was working collaboratively and more closely with fewer contractors. Wharton is excited about this, as he says it suits the way Story likes to work.

“Coming from that specialist subcontractor background, we had to really get in and understand jobs and the people and the way that each individual principal contractor wanted to work and build those relationships. Carrying that forward, we’ve found we’re working in the same way with Network Rail’s teams – so the key Network Rail development of working collaboratively is something we’ve always done.

“It’s really been a good match with the way we’ve always worked and like to work, it suits the way that Network Rail wants to work, so we found ourselves fitting into that model ideally. It couldn’t have worked better for us.”

One of the major projects Story will be taking on as part of the framework contracts is the refurbishment and platform reconstruction at Carlisle station. Work is set to begin in mid-2015 and last for about a year. Wharton said it will be the largest individual project involved in the contracts, at a cost of about £5m.

Earthworks form the biggest discipline of the framework contracts it has been awarded, coming in at £46m, and work has already started. The ‘structures’ part of the framework contracts will also see Story performing bridge refurbishments and reconstructions.

Wharton said the long-term commitment from Network Rail will allow Story to continue to invest in its business.

Chief executive Fred Story has consistently and significantly reinvested profits back into the business with a focus on developing plant capacity, so Story now has a significant amount of internal road-rail and civil engineering plant.

Wharton says that now this has been completed, the next investment focus will be people.

“Having this level of secured workload, we’ll really be able to start focusing our investment on developing people – getting in good-quality delivery people, training everybody and giving everybody the opportunity to really grow their skills and capabilities,” he said.

“Having a five-year commitment gives us the confidence that we can do that without facing the difficulties that previously existed of peaks and troughs, and having gaps and people with nothing for them to do.”

Story also has a separate continuing workload on the LNE route, and a sister business in the housebuilding sector.

Asked about the future, Wharton isn’t prepared to look that far ahead, with Story wanting to instead remain focused on the job in hand.

“It’s probably early in the CP5 process to look beyond getting these frameworks done well and done right and maintaining our workload in LNE.

“I think in about 12 months’ time, that’ll be when we start looking at where we develop beyond that.”

Kevin Wharton edit resize 635524218021080000

Above: Kevin Wharton, Story Contracting

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