When CPMS managing director Mat Baine was a child, a job in rail was the last thing his careers advisors had in mind for him.
As a pupil at the Sylvia Young Theatre School, with contemporaries including Spice Girl Emma Bunton, surely a career treading the boards would have been more exciting?
But that is exactly the attitude Baine wants to see change. As one of the four founding partners of the London-based rail engineering firm CPMS, he says he often brings in graduates from spheres completely outside rail and trains them up in areas such as civil engineering or project management.
“At careers fairs at school, I don’t think many people get sold on the rail industry as an exciting place to work. But we’re bringing them in and educating them about the salaries they can earn and the opportunities they can have to develop and climb the ladder in a similar way I have done myself,” he says.
Baine got his foot on the bottom rung as a trainee linesman 27 years ago, collecting his weekly wages of £127 per week from the till at the station. He worked his way up at Network Rail, ending up as a senior project manager on Thameslink, the £6bn, mega-project to improve services between north and south of London.
It was there that his friendship with the CPMS co-founders was formed and the idea for the firm born. The initials CPMS stand for the company’s philosophy: collaborative project management services.
“Network Rail would run quite a light management team, and a lot of that would pass over to the contractor to manage. We found we were working further and further down the chain, doing more of the contractor’s activities than the client activities that we should have been doing. We felt that project management could be done professionally at a higher standard than it was previously being undertaken,” he says.
We felt that project management could be done professionally at a higher standard
Getting elements such as construction phase plans and CDM compliance right were crucial to the project, but that’s where Baine saw the supply chain lacking.
“Thameslink was always described as open-heart surgery while the patient’s awake,” he says, referring to the constraints within which firms had to work on the project. “Network Rail gets 100% of the pain when there’s an incident like that [overrunning engineering works] and the contractor doesn’t really feel anything.”
It was in 2012 that the team “took a leap of faith” and set up on its own. The firm has grown very quickly. It now has 65 staff and took in around £8M in revenue last year.
Being brought in on the Great Eastern Main Line re-electrification project gave it a quick kick start. It was a complex, £250M project to replace overhead electric lines first installed in the 1950s.
The team decided that rather than do one line at a time, it would carry out each phase of work at a time, so for example drill all the holes, install the piles for the support gantries, then tell the designers the exact co-ordinates so they could accurately design the rest of the job.
The initial job was to do a health check of the project, which, at the time, was over budget and running years behind schedule. Its recommendations helped win it the £6M, five year contract to project manage the renewal.
However, as the Department for Transport (DfT) would measure the firm’s performance on the amount of line replaced, Baine had to explain that the expected results would be back loaded to the end of the project.
“The project had been doing one wire at a time. We went back to DfT and explained that our volumes would be lower than anticipated but would pick up at the back end.
“We dug all the trial holes, put all the piles in, sent x and y coordinates to the designer, put structures up, then we did the wires.
“All the structures are incredibly fiddly, but going from literally the bottom up has been really effective,” he says.
Now CPMS has won an equivalent contract for control period 6 –Network Rail’s spending period from 2019 to 2024. Again this is set to be worth about £6M in total and involves renewing the line between London’s Fenchurch Street station and Pitsea in Essex.
The firm has also expanded out of the Anglia route area, winning a contract on the Wessex route for decommissioning level crossings. It is also starting to move into new markets, working on London Southend airport, which needs a new runway laid and terminals extended.
“There’s a lot of work there, there’s a lot of good people, but there’s not enough people – from linesmen to project managers to designers. There’s not enough resource,” says Baine.
“Renewals can’t be paused. It has got to be done otherwise you won’t have an operating infrastructure. Brexit is pushing that need higher because you have to have a slick running system, to move freight around the country and Network Rail wants to move to an electric freight model.”
There’s a lot of work there, there’s a lot of good people, but there’s not enough people
The shortage of good people is why CPMS is looking outside rail for staff. It wants hard working, ambitious people, and has already taken on employees who were, for example, previously working as para-legals but who have now finished a civil engineering qualification.
The top talent gets put on its future leaders scheme, where Apprentice-style tasks such as producing marketing materials are allocated with the winners rewarded with prizes like boxes at the Royal Albert Hall.
For a firm rooted in the rail sector, CPMS is unusual in that it has a 50:50 male/female staff ratio.
“We haven’t actively gone: ‘for every man let’s recruit a woman’, it has organically happened, the best person for the role has got the job.”
But with such a rapid expansion, Baine says the time has come to focus on the business of running a business, as well as building railways. YFM Equity Partners has recently invested £4.5M in the firm to support its growth.
This will involve extending its services to incorporate more onsite works, and transfer skills from rail into other sectors such as highways and water.
“You can see why a lot of SMEs fail in the first two to three years because that support is hard to come by. Little things like how you enrol on PAYE or set up pension schemes,” says Baine.
“The four of us are professional railwaymen, by bringing in private equity investment, it helps with business side of it.”