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Operators go off the rails

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Operators are quitting the rail plant business to move to other sectors such as civil engineering amid fears over the long-term viability of the industry.

Research by the Rail Plant Association (RPA) reveals member companies are working at just 70% of workload capacity during the week compared to recent levels, and at 60% on weekends. Now it wants Westminster and Network Rail to help.

The association said: “Rail plant is at the heart of maintaining the rail infrastructure in the UK yet there are doubts around its long-term viability due to the economic uncertainty for those companies operating this specialist equipment.

“Despite pledges by government to spend more money on transport infrastructure and an ongoing programme of rail maintenance work, rail plant operators face uncertain times. The cyclical nature of the industry places strain on resources and operators and damage to over-all capacity.”

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Rail plant firms are losing experienced operators.

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RPA members believe workload levels have fallen to a point where “irreparable damage” to the rail maintenance supply chain may take many years to repair. Despite ongoing track maintenance programmes and upgrade proposals for existing infrastructure, concerns remain around fluctuations in workload.

The paper also outlines the impact on operators. “When companies reduce headcount, it becomes much harder to reverse these changes when work returns. It can take two years for a plant operator from a traditional construction background to learn the skills needed to operate a road rail excavator. That cost and experience is lost once they leave the industry, especially as the financial incentives are currently higher in civil engineering and construction.

“As a result of the downturn, companies are losing highly-trained operational frontline staff as they leave the industry for more secure employment into other sectors.”

It added: “Action is needed now to address the problems through a collaborative approach and government and Network Rail need to listen and work with the sector.”

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Round-the-clock rail

Plant companies have helped Network Rail complete upgrade and refurbishment works as part of a £5m investment on the West Highland Line.

The track was closed between Crianlarich and Fort William for 10 days as the rail infrastructure company and its sub-contractors worked around the clock to refurbish bridges and renew under-track drainage systems.

Working through tough conditions which included a yellow weather warning, the teams worked a combined total of 9,000 hours to remove 400 tonnes of spoil, remove and replace 600 sq. metres of timber decking and lay 242 metres of track.

The platforms at Rannoch were rebuilt as part of the work, meaning that the station tea room couldn’t be reached by rail during the line closure. However, over the 10-day work programme it fed the workforce and provided respite from the persistent rain.

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©Scottish Plant.  Article posted 28/10/2019