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Frightening experience Light and heavy rail expertise from home and abroad make Mowlem one of the most likely contractors to break into the maintenance and renewal markets.

Expect Mowlem's Australian subsidiary Barclay Mowlem to play a major part in its efforts to get a foothold in the UK's rail maintenance and track renewal market. Mowlem lacked the financial resources to buy any of the British Rail track renewal or infrastructure maintenance units when they were privatised, but now hopes to break into the market with a vengeance as the first contracts go out to tender.

Barclay Mowlem has worked on a number of major Pacific Rim rail projects providing track, track maintenance, overhead power lines and signalling equipment for thousands of kilometres of line. Projects have included two major contracts for Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway.

'We will use its expertise and will ship over equipment where appropriate,' says Mowlem Civil Engineering director David Cox. Mowlem also plans to import modern track construction machinery such as flash butt welding machines - more productive than the traditional thermit welding techniques.

The Australian expertise will dovetail with Mowlem's own experience of light rail projects in the UK and continental Europe. Over here, Mowlem's credits include construction of London's Docklands Light Railway and the Manchester Metrolink. It is also part of the City Greenwich Link consortium responsible for the £200M privately financed extension to the DLR south of the Thames to Lewisham.

These projects also enabled Mowlem to gain experience on heavy rail and its associated structures. Manchester Metro, in particular, runs on 25 miles of rehabilitated heavy rail line which had previously carried British Rail trains. 'We had to upgrade that asset which involved the refurbishment of 120 structures of up to 100m in length,' says Cox.

On the Continent the contractor is part of another consortium building the 45km privately financed heavy rail link between Stockholm and Arlande international airport. The £450M line is similar to London's Heathrow Express link.

All this experience probably means that the contractors which bought the British Rail infrastructure maintenance and track renewal units in 1995 will be looking nervously at Mowlem. As guaranteed maintenance and track renewal contracts come to an end, Mowlem is regarded by many in the industry as the most likely 'outsider' to break into the market.

Cox believes that Mowlem's position outside the mainstream track maintenance and renewal market can be used to good advantage. 'The reason we can compete is that we are on the outside and we think about problems from a fresh point of view,' he says.

He expects the fresh approach to generate more innovation, improve efficiency and in turn produce better margins. The contractor is, like Jarvis, looking at ways to end the tradition of weekend track closures in favour of less disruptive weeknight possessions for vital engineering work.

Aside from its rail expertise, Mowlem hopes to use asset management techniques developed after its purchase of former Property Services Agency business BM Noreast in 1993. This should help the contractor as Railtrack looks to improve its own asset management skills.

Cox also expects that the experience of taking over BM Noreast will help Mowlem win track maintenance and renewal contracts from contractors which own the privatised businesses. A specialist management team was brought in to run the BM business after purchase from the government and, according to Cox, worked very successfully. A similar process is planned if the contractor wins an infrastructure maintenance contract. AB

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