Shannon Rail Services was founded by managing director Pat McAnulty in 2002, initially to provide a mobile site access control solution for track renewals and enhancement projects across the industry.

The company’s main depot is at Watford Junction, adjacent to the Network Rail yard. Operating from this central location Shannon Rail Services has developed into a comprehensive railway business providing site access control facilities and staff, training and medical services, haulage and logistics support, and labour supply to contractors on Network Rail and Transport for London infrastructure.

Additional satellite depots and stabling points for the company’s growing fleet of vehicles are located at Peterborough, Doncaster and Sandiacre .

One of the biggest challenges has been to keep abreast of the frequent changes affecting the company’s customer base as contracts and territories within the privatised railway industry have changed hands at regular intervals. Another problem that affected Shannon Rail in line with many companies was the demise of Jarvis, one of its major clients. ‘It was a difficult time but we came through it,’ said Pat McAnulty.

But while Shannon Rail has managed to grow steadily in the last few years McAnulty stressed that more investment in new vehicles and technology is dependent on contractors taking a longer-term view of their operational requirements and the structure of the industry has not always encouraged this.

Industry leading

However, things may be about to change as Shannon Rail has recently embarked on a development programme working with Amey COLAS JV to provide bespoke mobile site access control/site support offices to support high-output track renewals. McAnulty is excited at the prospect of creating an industry leading solution to transient worksites. ‘The problem with high-output was that a traditional static compound was set up which, as the train moved on night after night and week after week in each campaign, became progressively more isolated from the worksite. So much so that site facilities were at times something like 15 or 20 miles distant from the workforce. Clearly there was a need to rethink the operation in order to meet current expectations for welfare provision.’

The 7.5 tonne vehicles provide a signing-in and out point, messing and toilet facilities, and a large briefing room equipped with AV monitor. There is also an external AV monitor that may be used to relay safety briefings and information to the workforce as they sign in. Supplemented by smaller van-sized units provided by the contractor, the aim is to equip each high-output system with completely mobile support facilities located wherever possible within walking distance of the worksite.

All grades and skills catered for

Quite apart from its expertise and experience in mobile operations and transport that extends to a fleet of minibuses, welfare vans and HGV’s as well as site access control units, Shannon Rail is keen to invest in people and currently employs more than 100 personnel. Personal Track Safety training for Network Rail infrastructure and LUCAS (London Underground Combined Access System) card qualification for London Underground sites are deemed essential requirements for the company’s operatives.

Shannon’s general manager Martin Sloan has many years’ experience in labour resourcing and is familiar with the ever more demanding standards expected in the rail industry. All grades and skills of railway personnel are catered for although the company focuses on its core market which is site access control and ancillary staff including drivers and welfare, stores, and site security operatives.

‘It is a constant challenge coping with short-term requirements, the heavy focus on weekends and comparative scarcity of midweek work, and ensuring compliance with all industry regulations,’ said Sloan. Nevertheless Shannon Rail has a good reputation for providing competent staff as and when needed. Sloan is also keen to emphasise the company’s excellent safety record, concern for staff development and occupational health monitoring procedures. ‘One of the advantages of being an accredited rail training company is not only that we are able to offer Network Rail courses to our own people, but we can also use in-house facilities to deliver internal training packages and client-led briefings for our site access control staff.’

Keeping up to date

Site access control was Shannon Rail’s original core business and remains at the forefront of its operations. Both Pat McAnulty and Martin Sloan recognised that the trend towards electronic web-based site access control systems was an area that Shannon would have to address if it was to remain a leading provider in the sector. To progress this aim, the company invested in developing a database (SAMS – Site Access Management System) several years ago although this was not used to its full potential. Sloan explained: ‘The system was quite ambitious and included photographs, induction and competency records for individuals, but because there was no direct interface with the NCCA database it was difficult to keep this information up to date.’

The SAMS product has recently been refreshed to include a live bar chart and fatigue management alerts for 12 hour on site and 14 hour door-to-door rules, but as with all systems of this type the fundamental issue of interface with the NCCA database is yet to be resolved. However, recent developments within Network Rail have raised the enticing prospect that at long last this will be possible. Business development manager, Carl Shillito explained: ‘The Sentinel 2 programme will later this year deliver a complete overhaul of the NCCA system including the issue of machine readable Sentinel smartcards. It will then be possible with the correct equipment and software to check card validity and competencies at the point of signing in.’

Making technology accessible

The system developers have recognised the benefits that Sentinel 2 will bring to site access control and are working with industry stakeholders, including Shannon Rail, to make the technology accessible to them.

Shillito added that the same team was also responsible for developing systems for the LUCAS card and the CSCS (Construction Skills Certification Scheme) card, and this synergy may help to open up opportunities for data sharing and control of working hours across the transport and civil engineering sectors.

As Shannon Rail operates on Network Rail and London Underground infrastructure as well as civils projects the company will be particularly well placed to exploit the opportunities presented by Sentinel 2.

The future is therefore full of challenge but also opportunity for a business like Shannon Rail that is not so large that it can’t think on its feet and play its part in bringing real innovation to the rail sector.

Said Pat McAnulty: ‘With the huge investments ongoing and planned, from Crossrail and Thameslink to main line electrification and beyond that high speed rail, we can see a solid path towards sensible and sustainable growth – but however successful we become I can promise you that we are determined to put our clients, the customer, at the centre of everything we do.’

For more information tel: 01923 254567