Signalling the way ahead

  • Andrew Swanson

Signalling the way ahead

Sam Sherwood-Hale spoke to Andrew Swanson, recently appointed as head of engineering in the Rail team at Kier Group

Tell us about your background in Rail

I have worked in Rail Signalling for 27 years, having started my career in South Africa and then moving to the UK in 2001. Most of my time I have spent managing signalling design, looking after a highly skilled and passionate team of design engineers. I have also been responsible for cross disciplinary interfaces which is vital for the success of any project.

I am fully aware of the exciting future for the UK signalling industry and I want to remain at the forefront of it.

Kier has ambitious growth plans for CP6 and having the correct structure and processes in place, enables us to meet demand. I wish to lead the way in maximising efficiency and working more effectively across all disciplines.

What excites you about the industry and its future?

The rail industry has offered me a fantastic career, every day is different and provides individuals the opportunities to learn and develop.

From the challenges of CP6 to maintaining and enhancing the existing infrastructure, through to the introduction of Digital Railway and the eventual rollout of Traffic Management Systems (TMS) and European Train Control Systems (ETCS), it continues to evolve. The Railway Upgrade Plan set out by Network Rail is the biggest investment programme in the railways since Victorian times.

Network Rail’s Chief Executive recently stated: ‘Not since the railway transformed from steam to diesel in the 1960s has a technological breakthrough held such promise to vastly improve our railway for the benefit of the millions of people and businesses who rely on it every day’. Digitisation is at the forefront of the rail agenda and I for one want to be a part of this pioneering chapter.

Tell us about your role at Kier?

My role as Head of Engineering for Kier is to manage cross-discipline interfaces and lead innovation to increase efficiency. We are already well-established, but we want to grow and we have some ambitious targets in place.

The next Network Rail Control Period (CP6) presents some fantastic opportunities to grow our signalling business in conjunction with our power business thanks to additional capabilities from Kier’s recent acquisition of McNicholas.

My role is to help staff achieve their personal goals and to meet our ambitious business targets. What’s more, I want to be part of an industry that is building and increasing network capacity through signalling solutions to help members of the public travel as effectively as is possible. Working with a highly motivated and passionate team that includes design, install, test, project management and project engineering, we can offer a complete solution to any railway signalling project.

What do you consider the key elements to delivering a great signalling project?

For me, the absolute fundamental element of delivering an excellent project, is always great teamwork. However, a great team needs leadership and within that is a clear definition of roles and responsibilities.

The client is always key to successful delivery with a clearly defined and agreed scope alongside a team that wants to be with you all the way to completion. Within signalling we are blessed with a discipline that is extremely varied and provides a constant source of learning and development.

What kind of signalling projects has Kier worked on over the last few years?

Kier has a strong, well-established signalling team that have an excellent record of tackling complex and technically challenging projects. We have primarily focused on minor signalling in the UK. Our range of expertise starts in GRIP3 project feasibility and extends right through to full design and build programmes concluding in GRIP8.

We have considerable experience in signalling project management, design, build and value engineering from feasibility through to testing and commissioning and project close out. We have the competence to produce designs for all signalling disciplines within Network Rail. We also have experts in route relay interlockings (RRI), solid state interlockings (SSI), and all types of mechanical interlockings.

Project successes include the East Suffolk Re-signalling, which replaced the RETB system with track circuit block, and the Balcombe Signalling Upgrade which was the replacement of the signal heads in this area and the provision of bi-directional signalling on both lines.

How do you see the industry meeting the challenge of delivering extra network capacity through the existing infrastructure?

We have an ever-growing passenger population and there are no signs of this slowing down. Therefore, we have to be able to meet the demands of the modern-day rail traveller – so we need to ensure better connectivity and we have to enable more trains to run.

The only way to do this is to work together as an industry – all stakeholders must join together and provide a collaborative approach that chooses the right solutions for each individual route.

To do this, I believe benefits can be gained from a life extension approach to deliver a conventional signalling solution that provides acceptable cost benefits, reliability and maintainability. It’s key to find the right traffic management system (TMS) in all areas, to allow technology to assist with the operationally workload, particularly in times of perturbation.

However, on the networks busiest routes it is also apparent that the Digital Railway has a huge part to play here, and it is exciting for the UK to finally want to roll out ETCS Level Two where needed, hopefully eventually moving to the huge capacity benefits of ETCS Level Three. The TOCs clearly want a signalling system that matches their time table aspirations, and we are seeing huge investment in new rolling stock. Signalling in the UK must keep up with this demand.

Given the specialist nature of signalling, how do you see the industry being able to keep delivering projects through CP6 and beyond with a maturing workforce?

It is true that we have a skills crisis facing all UK signalling companies. This is largely a result of an ageing workforce. Passing on what we learn through our own careers to the new generation is fundamental in order to preserve and pass on knowledge and skills.

Rail is a fascinating industry and we have to attract more people in to it, with the correct focus on talent, inclusion and diversity being at the heart of this. Kier has long been an advocate of apprenticeship schemes, and our Rail team has benefited from drawing on this established programme by recruiting specialist apprentices such as Signalling Installers and Trainee Signalling Designers.

To meet the resource demands of the future, by investing in early careers Kier launched its award-winning Shaping Your World™ campaign last year that aims to inspire generation Z (11 to 15-year olds) to work within the built environment. As part of this campaign, one per cent of our entire workforce will engage with 10,000 schoolchildren over 12 months. The response to the campaign has been exceptional, even Ministers have referred to it in speeches.

BBC Radio 4 interviewed our Chief Executive about the report we commissioned to launch the campaign and we have thousands of visitors to our microsite that is full of interactive elements and details about working within our industry.

Once we have the right people, leadership is absolutely at the heart of ensuring we retain first-class talent and given opportunities to develop and flourish and make a very real impact to the UK rail lines and the world we live in.

To listen to our signalling careers podcast visit

Andrew Swanson is head of engineering in the Rail team at Kier Group.

For more information on Kier’s rail capabilities, visit

2018-05-25T15:57:01+00:00May 25th, 2018|June 2018|