THE UK rail sector is 'under-invested, both financially and intellectually', Amey chief executive Brian Staples claimed this week.
Speaking as the contractor released its interim results, Staples said there was a particularly pressing need to modernise railway maintenance.
'Maintenance is today a low productivity reactive task, and considerable gains are available by process re-engineering to become pre-planned and productive.
'Track renewal is carried out in a piecemeal fashion which prohibits high outputs, and train delays are often the result of outdated technology and techniques,' he said.
Amey has been investing heavily in the sector. Delivery of a third tamping machine has taken its spend in this area to pounds10M. The company is also recruiting from overseas to make up for skills shortages in the signalling sector. Workload has improved by pounds31M to pounds191.4M.
Amey's highway maintenance division has a similar workload of around pounds175.7M. Staples claimed that Amey now has 28% of the UK's highway maintenance market, managing 3,400km of carriageway and 4,600 structures.
Overall, infrastructure maintenance turnover was up 12.2 % to pounds84.5M in the first half of 1998 compared to the first half of last year. Pre- tax profits increased 10.9% to pounds5.6M.
Amey's business process outsourcing division - including facilities management and private finance operations - continues to go from strength to strength. Turnover was up 47.3% at pounds28.7M, and pre-tax profits increased 59.5% at pounds1.3M. The BPO division currently contributes 13.2% of Amey's turnover and 16.6% of its profit, but this is likely to rise as it has orders of over pounds220M.
The division's one setback was the cancellation of the M8 DBFO project in June. Amey is seeking compensation from the Government.
Even Amey's construction arm did well, boosting turn-over by 14% and returning a pre-tax profit of pounds1M, compared to a loss of pounds300,000 in the first half of 1997.
Overall group turnover was up 13.6% at pounds218M, while pre-tax profit rose 25.9% to pounds7.6M. Cash at the bank and in hand increased 62% to pounds42M.