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Express services The main players in the buoyant UK rail market have established a clear lead over rivals, reports Alastair McLellan*.

Four years on from rail privatisation's year zero, the infrastructure sector is already wearing a settled look. Within the contracting and consultants' top ten, all the main players seem established.

Balfour Beatty and WS Atkins are out on their own at number one in the contractors and consultants tables respectively. BB Rail has a turnover 60% higher than second placed Jarvis, while Atkins employs twice as many staff on UK rail projects as Kennedy & Donkin.

The total value of work undertaken by the 30 rail infrastructure contractors surveyed appears to be around £1.8bn a year, of which £1.2bn is represented by the turnover of the big six - Balfour Beatty, Jarvis, GTRM, Amey, First Engineering and Amec.

After that, the picture becomes more confused, with Bovis and May Gurney (which each employ around 200 staff on UK rail projects) refusing to reveal turnover details.

It is important to note that GTRM, Tarmac Rail Projects and Centrac are all part of the Tarmac group. If they were to combine, say, in the way the constituent parts of BB Rail have, they would make up the second largest rail infrastructure company with a combined turnover of £306M and 4,570 staff working on UK rail schemes.

The greatest training effort comes from Lovell and the 11th placed Mansell, whose education efforts obviously extend far beyond staff working directly for them. Lovell have put 1,385 staff through a formal rail training programme within the last two years, while Mansell has taught 1,065.

Registrations under the Link Up scheme - which signifies that firms meet the standards required to carry out certain categories of rail infrastructure work - reveal that most of the larger firms offer a multidisciplinary service to a greater or lesser extent.

Nine contractors have Infrastructure Maintenance Agreements with Railtrack. Balfour Beatty leads the way with nine zonal agreements, followed by Jarvis (six), First Engineering (five), Amey (four), GTRM and Amec (three each), Osborne (two) and Galliford and Nuttall (one each).

Of these existing agreement holders, Amey says it is bidding to retain the Newport Zone, Jarvis for an unspecified Scottish zone and Osborne for an unnamed zone somewhere in the UK. GTRM is the only firm prequalified to bid for all three English infrastructure contracts coming up for grabs in the Midlands, Newport and West Anglia zones.

Contractors attempting to muscle into the infrastructure and maintenance market include May Gurney and NorWest Holst.

Five firms have track renewal agreements - Balfour, First Engineering, Jarvis, Centrac and Amey. Of these, only First is not satisfied with its existing workload, and is looking to win work south of the Scottish border.

Those wanting a piece of the track renewals action include Amec, which is targeting the South West and South Central zones, Alfred McAlpine, and Nuttal, which is bidding as part of the RML joint-venture that also includes Kier and WS Atkins.

In the consultancy sector, there is a similar group of companies dominating the market. Turnover from UK rail work of the 28 firms surveyed is just over £155M. Of this (assuming Atkins has a turnover of around £44.5M), £136.5M is earned by the top eight firms. Again, all these firms are multi- disciplinary.

The biggest trainers are Allott (130 trained in the last two years) and Mott (100).

*This analysis is based on responses to NCE's exclusive rail infrastructure survey.

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