The story of the Midland Main Line upgrade has moved on quite a bit in the past 12 months. At the start of 2016, the programme was just beginning to regain momentum following a brief hiatus – one of the after effects of Sir Peter Hendy’s extensive review of Network Rail.

The £2 billion programme is being delivered by the Network Rail Infrastructure Projects East Midlands (IPEM) partnership. The IPEM team comprises Network Rail, AMCO, Arup, Atkins, Carillion, Carillion Powerlines, Galliford Try and Murphy.

The remobilisation of a £2 billion programme ‘doesn’t just happen’, said Paul Thomas, route delivery director, Network Rail. ‘We’ve been very active in that throughout the past year… We’re taking a much more programme-based approach.’

At its heart is the electrification of the Midland Main Line between Bedford and Sheffield. Work is currently focussed between Bedford and Corby. At the start of the year, a six-week blockade to begin the installation of a second track was successfully delivered. Now preparatory works for the electrification of the line can begin.

Piling is due to start between Kettering and Corby in May and between Bedford and Kettering in October. If all goes to plan, the line from Bedford to Kettering and Corby will be energised in 2019, reaching Sheffield four years later. Network Rail is predicting a 30 per cent growth in passenger numbers along the corridor over the next 10 years and the upgrade is key to preparing one of Britain’s oldest routes for the future.

NEW HOME

Paul was speaking at SafeStart 2017, which welcomed some 70 exhibitors and 750 delegates to its new home of Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, on 26 January. It is the fourth year in succession that the exhibition has brought the IPEM team and its supply chain together at the start of a new year.

The main message of the show was ‘Safe Stop’, encouraging people to stop and intervene if they see unsafe work practices and also to stop and consider the consequences of the decisions they make. Says Paul, ‘That’s really where the main theme for this comes from. It’s about stopping and taking action if it’s not right.’

Paul was keen to stress that he didn’t see SafeStart as a typical trade show. The conference programme and interactive sessions dealt with a variety of issues that can impact on health and wellbeing – a theme that underpins the whole event. During the conference, Kelly Sotherton, who won bronze in the heptathlon at the 2004 Olympic Games, and British triple jump champion Nathan Douglas provided some insight into sports psychology, offering up advice and guidance that delegates could apply in their own day-to-day lives. There were also seminar sessions on things like occupational hygiene, suicide awareness and handling risk.

SAFESTART AWARDS

James Steele, head of innovation at Carillion and the organiser of SafeStart, believes the event does two things: it allows people to see parts of the industry outside their own immediate view and it gives individuals a moment to stop and think about safety after a busy Christmas. ‘It’s all about focusing and resetting their minds on the year ahead,’ says James. ‘What we’re doing now is we’re getting people better prepared for the work as well.’

The event also rewarded those who had made a positive impact on health and safety throughout the programme during the past 12 months. The SafeStart Awards honoured those who had intervened to stop someone from taking their own life, someone who had performed CPR on a member of the public and another who had helped a driver at the scene of a road traffic accident.

What the IPEM’s leadership team want to see is the message from SafeStart maintained and built on throughout the rest of the year, says Paul. There are examples of new schemes and initiatives that are doing just that. By deploying occupational nurses to site, the programme has already made a meaningful difference. As a result, several people have been referred to their doctor and some have even been referred directly to hospital.

REFLECT ON SAFETY

Headline sponsors for the event were TXM Plant and Vp plc. Kayleigh Lord, marketing and communication manager at TXM Plant, said the event was a good ‘platform’ to raise awareness of safety issues. ‘TXM Plant are proud supporters of the SafeStart event. We believe that safety is paramount in any industry, especially rail. TXM Plant and TXM Rail’s dedicated SHEQ teams are keen to raise awareness of its importance and SafeStart is a great platform to do so. The event allows companies to share ideas and come together to ensure a safe working environment for all.’

Says Graham Humphries, business development manager at Torrent Trackside, ‘SafeStart 2017 was a spectacular repeat of what’s becoming an industry leading event. For us, it is about taking the time to reflect on safety, meet our colleagues and showcase Vp’s latest innovative solutions and products for hire. A lot of effort went into the event from the Carillion team and we are proud to support their initiative.’

Like all of Network Rail’s Infrastructure Projects alliances, IPEM is under pressure to deliver. The technical challenges and time constraints of a major electrification scheme could pose a real threat to safe delivery. Opening the event, Paul said that those working on the upgrade programme were twice as safe as those in other parts of the country. The real challenge now is to maintain this throughout the life of the project. It’s not how you start but how you finish.