With Peloton’s Rail Cymru Conference over, Quadrant Transport sat down with Alasdair MacDonald, Programme Director at Balfour Beatty, to uncover his thoughts on how collaboration can innovate the sector.
Alasdair MacDonald, Programme Director at Balfour Beatty, is currently leading the delivery of the Track, Power, and Fibre packages on Balfour Beatty’s Core Valley Lines Infrastructure project, as part of the Craidd Alliance.
The Craidd Alliance sees Balfour Beatty working together with Transport for Wales, Siemens Mobility, Alun Griffiths Contractors Ltd and Amey Infrastructure Wales, with Craidd meaning core in Welsh.
Collaboration is key, Alasdair expressed that it is his main focus as the organisations are coming together to “identify key processes and systems that will help us work together and really fundamentally help us to maximise the capacity and capability of each organisation, but to also help us learn from past experiences of each of the organisations and to make sure that we deliver the most project, the most infrastructure, the best outcomes, all the budget that is available.”
Assets moving from Network Rail to Transport for Wales (TfW) enables the opportunity to invest in people
Describing it as “another excellent example of collaboration”, Alasdair spoke about the assets that are moving from Network Rail to Transport for Wales: “On behalf of the Welsh Government taking over the Core Valley Lines asset and then the renationalisation of the operator, you have in one client; both the asset owner and the operator.”
Continuing, Quadrant Transport heard: “Unlike in the rest of the country where you have got the owner and maintainer of the asset, and the operator is separate to organisations, with TfW, you have a laser-focused on the travelling public. It not only is the maintainer and the asset owner, but it is also the operator as well.”
More government responsibility is now on the travelling public, Alasdair said that with Core Valley Lines, “we’ve got a much better focus on what the impact is on the travelling public that is both motivating, but it is also it means we can make more sensible decisions.”
Two-pronged attack from TfW: Passenger recovery and sustainable travel
Working on the “highly complex integrated” Core Valley Lines project, technology and innovation are constant factors that affect the project. One example that Alasdair gave was the electrifying of the line along the route between Cardiff and London.
What otherwise would have been unaffordable, is made affordable by offering a significant saving in the cost of delivery, due to advances in technology.
Another example Alasdair gave of how technology and innovation have affected the Core Valley Lines project, is around the adoption of tools that decarbonise. Moving away from focusing on big power units, Balfour Beatty is now using small tools on-site.
“Often those batteries are powered by solar-powered units, rather than by generators again, pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The construction industry has recognised its role in the decarbonisation in the work that it does, and is pursuing was in doing work which reduces our carbon footprint.”
Balfour Beatty has signed up to targets towards net zero by 2050, Alasdair told Quadrant Transport that it is “not achievable unless we change the way that we work. So, those are some of the innovations, some of the ways that actually the industry is collaborating to meet a goal, and a goal that of course is so important to Wales as well.”
Electrification will be a big part of the rail industry in the near future
Around 40% of the UK rail network is now electrified, and the cost-effectiveness of electrification is increasing. Though it has turned a corner in terms of this cost-effectiveness, there is a lot more progress for the industry to make.
Alasdair explained how electrification is going to be a major part of being in the industry and it will happen “through the infrastructure investment over the course of the next ten years. I think we need to recognise that these are big complex schemes and they don’t arrive overnight.
“A lot of work needs to go into the design of them, understanding the interface between all of the moving parts, and that if one part does not work effectively, it will cause delay and extra cost.”
We have to be honest with ourselves. We need to take the time to get the design right, we need to avoid getting over-ambitious goals that drive the wrong decision making, and we need to be honest about what it will cost.
The Craidd Alliance is collaborating to offer opportunities for individuals exiting the justice system
Alongside technology and innovation improvements, the Craidd Alliance’s core idea is investing in people, collaborating with other sectors, such as the prison sector.
Working with an open prison, the Craidd Alliance has in stage one of the process offered a total of ten placements for individuals who will shortly be exiting the justice system.
“From those ten placements, that we have managed to offer, we actually have already employed three of those individuals permanently, and this represents the pathway that is likely to be adopted more broadly across Transport for Wales’ project, but also to potentially be across Wales.”
Benefits to helping these individuals are majorly underestimated Alasdair says, with there being “very clear research that says that there is a sustainable reasonably well-paid work opportunity available as soon as they leave – the likelihood of them reoffending drops significantly.”
Research reveals that over 80% of employers of ex-offenders have positively rated their reliability, motivation, attendance and performance.
Companies are not set up to support individuals exiting the justice system
However, Alasdair revealed to Quadrant Transport that there are significant challenges in the recruitment process: “Of course company and organisation processes are not set up to support these individuals. In fact, our recruitment processes are usually there to make sure we get people who aren’t in that sort of scenario, which of course is wrong and isn’t the way it should be.
“You have to go through the process of improving the processing, the internal processes, going through the administrations and working out how we make it safe for people to join so that we deal with any stigma that might be around.”
Without the partners working together, Alasdair revealed that it “wouldn’t be possible unless we did do it together. The reason being we wouldn’t have the scale; organisations do not have enough roles to support this sort of initiative all of the time, whereas when you are working somewhere large scale like we are, there is that opportunity.”
Collaboration is the focus for Balfour Beatty, as it helps to speed processes up, keep money low and build confidence among the travelling public; which is needed now more than ever after the pandemic.