Amec is looking to expand beyond its southern stronghold.
Amec claims a place among the strongest players in the track renewals and maintenance market. The contractor formed Amec Rail in 1996, combining British Rail's former signalling systems designer BPE, bought in 1995, with BR's South West Infrastructure Maintenance company, which was privatised in early 1996. The £11M infrastructure maintenance acquisition came with the RT1A term contracts for Railtrack's South West Inner, South West Outer and Sussex regions covering the southern and south coast counties.
Amec Rail got a shot in the arm at the end of 1996 when the division's parent company announced it was buying 42% of French contractor Spie Batignolles.
The potential to use Spie's extensive light and heavy rail experience in the emerging British railways market was one of the reasons for the tie-up.
Spie's track record in railways is impressive. It includes involvement in the Channel Tunnel as well as the construction of large chunks of the TGV network in France. Spie and Amec also have stakes in electrification specialist Spie Enertrans which has supplied Heathrow Express, light rail systems in Brazil and Mexico plus heavy rail projects in Sweden, Portugal, Germany and Costa Rica.
The strategy has been to allow the ex-BR parts of the rail business to run themselves, enabling them to draw on Amec's diverse contracting, design and engineering skills. There has been no clear-out of ex-BR staff, as these are considered vital to the business with their long standing knowledge of the rail network.
'We are not trying to change the way the railway is understood and run - that would be too much of a risk,' says Amec Rail managing director Ian Hume. 'We are adding value in providing management support, systems support, project management support and support from Spie,' he says.
Hume himself was recruited by Amec from South West Water to head up the Amec Rail division. 'What I'm bringing to the party is a utilities infrastructure management approach from a client perspective,' he says. This is expected to help the new business understand Railtrack's efforts to introduce whole life costing techniques as it attempts to tighten up on asset management and get better value for money from its contractors.
Amec Rail's aim is to improve the management of track so that work is carried out early to head off track or signal failures. 'My objective is to take maintenance from the 'it's-broke-we'll-fix-it' mentality to conditions monitoring.'
In signalling, this means using infra-red sensors to identify deteriorating sections of the network, so that repair work can be done before a failure occurs.
Amec decided to target maintenance contracts rather than track renewals initially because this work was considered to offer more solid business opportunities. Now Railtrack is looking to combine maintenance with track renewal work, and Amec expects to bid for these contracts, too, as they come up for tender.
Like some of its competitors, Amec Rail is examining opportunities to bid for contracts outside the areas (in its case, the South West and Sussex), where it currently holds maintenance contracts. The division is also looking beyond Railtrack for work, and currently holds a 10-year contract to maintain London Underground's Jubilee Line and Jubilee Line Extension. Amec Rail hopes to get involved in other Underground projects, especially if the planned privately financed upgrade gets off the ground.