Established in Belfast in 1853, McLaughlin & Harvey began life as a builder and contractor business, before expanding into civil engineering in 1934 with both marine harbour and transportation works.

The company came under its current ownership in 1993, and since then has operated a division-based structure with departments for construction, civil engineering, facilities management, small works, frameworks, and specialist joinery services.

By drawing on the capabilities of these divisions, McLaughlin & Harvey is able to execute a full spectrum of works. ‘We very much use our own in-house resources on projects so if the construction team need civil engineers they can call on them, or if our railway staff require construction expertise we can do the same, although for very niche works such as rail welding we will bring in and manage specialist contractors,’ explains Graeme Pollock, civil engineer and contracts manager at McLaughlin & Harvey.

‘Another advantage is our flat management structure, which means that our divisional directors are very closely integrated with the site teams and have a hands-on awareness of what is happening on the ground,’ he continues.

Deep roots with clients

This approach extends to the company’s client relationships, where it may get involved with a project even before tender, to highlight any potential issues and advise on how the work might be done more easily or cost-effectively.

To that end, McLaughlin & Harvey has earned many deeply-rooted close relationships with customers across its civil engineering and construction works, including Translink, Northern Ireland’s integrated bus and rail public transport company.

This is partly in response to the challenges that Northern Ireland’s rail system presents.

‘As a limited rail network there’s a lot of single track which makes it difficult to execute works that would normally be carried out from the adjacent tracks,’ says Graeme. ‘If you’re doing a track renewal for example then the work becomes either quite piecemeal or a complete closure.’

A reputation for innovation

McLaughlin & Harvey has gained a reputation for finding innovative ways to execute demanding projects, and delivering them with cost or time savings.

One such example was a recent project to extend the limited life of a 26 mile section of track between Ballymena and Coleraine.

Says Graeme, ‘Originally the work was set out over twelve months of night shifts, but we suggested to Translink that it would be more efficient to do this as part of a closure, which is what we did in the end, and it reduced costs and speed restrictions by a considerable amount. It’s about talking and working with the client to find the best way of delivering their project needs.’

McLaughlin & Harvey also operates a structures and maintenance contract for Translink which requires it to maintain all of the structures across the network. This includes remedial work and repairs to bridges and embankments, as well as an ongoing project to extend 20 platforms to accommodate longer trains.

Recently the company completed a £2.22 million permanent way storage and maintenance facility, while a few years previously it delivered a £9 million train cleaning site.

More recent projects include:

• Track safety improvement works between Castlerock and Eglinton to the value of £1.5 million over nine weeks. This involved re-railing, welding and stressing 18.5 miles and associated civil works including ballast retention, drainage, and 10 level crossings
• Ballymoney Footbridge, to the value of £1.3m over 40 weeks. Comprising construction of a new footbridge and cycle way over live railway and links to town footpaths
• The ‘New Trains 2’ project, included the purchase of new trains and 18 platform extensions, which involved the demolition and rebuilding of stations throughout Northern Ireland Railways.

While McLaughlin & Harvey has been successful in delivering projects outside of Northern Ireland, partially through its relationship with its sister company in Scotland, its expansion has not yet spread to the rail division. In an effort to help secure contracts with Network Rail and other contractors across Great Britain, the company has invested in Link-up approval, and is considering the possibility of gaining its Network Rail Principal Contractors Licence.

‘Given the current economic climate in Northern Ireland, coupled with a network of limited mileage, we are looking to take advantage of the investment into railways on the mainland,’ explains Graeme. ‘We see that we can bring across our ideas and ways of working, which can help reduce costs, as well as continue to learn and broaden our knowledge.’

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