Centrac managing director Ian Webb thinks privatisation has had more impact on track renewal than any other part of the rail industry. 'Because of the large degree of competition, track renewal companies have had to become leaner and fitter quicker,' he says.
Webb knows this because track renewal is Centrac's business. The company was formed when Tarmac bought and renamed BR's Central Track Renewal Company in 1996. The business covering Railtrack's Midlands zone now employs nearly 600 people and has a turnover of £53M.
As with many of the newly privatised rail maintenance and renewal companies, Centrac inherited ageing and unreliable stock. 'Our first job was to refurbish it, bring it up to scratch,' Webb says. 'New management systems and people were brought in, and with them came new ideas and skills. This has led to innovations in methods and plant which have reduced costs and increased output, allowing us to finish work within possession time.'
Centrac is heavily involved in the development of new materials and techniques designed to improve productivity in relaying track. It recently completed trials for a ballast distribution system using a self-discharge ballast train and is involved in the development of Pandrol Fastclip fastenings (see page 77). Its innovations have won several industry safety awards.
The company is also looking to invest in major new plant purchases, particularly tampers and gantry systems.
As part of the Tarmac group, Centrac also contributes to integrated infrastructure bids by the parent company, such as the £45m Manchester Victoria renewal which includes signalling and track renewal work.