Wentworth House Rail Systems (WHRS), part of Keltbray Group, was established in 2012 to provide consultancy, design and development for Overhead Line Electrification (OLE) in rail infrastructure. Since then, WHRS has developed exceptional OLE design experience, having worked on major projects such as Crossrail, West Coast Mainline Power Upgrade, GWRM, Great Eastern and Norwich Victoria Sidings.

Since it was founded it has successfully commissioned 80 projects in the UK.  What is probably less well known is the fact that the business has been establishing a growing reputation in Australia, with two commissions already completed.

With the slowdown in the UK market between Control Periods 5 and 6, it was important that Keltbray diversified its offering into new markets and look for opportunities to exploit its capabilities to drive revenue growth. Given the many similarities between the UK and Australia and Canada, in terms of rail infrastructure procurement and delivery, both markets offered new and attractive opportunities.

Since deciding to extend its international footprint in February 2019, the design consultancy’s business development director, Mark Thomas, has seen major investment growth in the Australasian market, with infrastructure spending $120bn (£70bn GBP) planned over the next 10 years:

“In June 2019 we set up Keltbray International Australia, marking WHRS out as an innovative new entrant into the Australian market. In the very same month we won work with the John Holland / Laing O’Rourke rail joint venture.”

Working with Laing O’Rourke and John Holland on the joint venture of the Sydenham Station and Junction (SSJ) Project, part of the new 66km AUS$16bn Sydney Metro, Keltbray International provided OLE consultancy services in the run up to a major blockade over the Christmas and New Year period. The services included the development of a strategy to deliver the complicated rail systems work scope along with staging diagrams and a detailed Primevera P6 program, with over 3,000 activities to be completed.

The work was completed ahead of schedule and the program was delivered on time and without issue over the blockade. Both John Holland and Laing O’Rourke were “absolutely delighted with the outcome” with great praise also coming from the ultimate client, Sydney Metro.

As a consequence of this initial success on its first commission, by late October 2019, WHRS had seconded a principal designer into Aurecon’s office in Sydney to assist with design verification works for a number of rail project prospects across New South Wales.

Mark Thomas who leads WHRS’s Australian business unit explains how the new venture has rapidly progressed since start-up.

What have been the biggest milestones so far?

Apart from our first contract win, I would say the submission to the Asset Standards Authority to become an Authorised Engineering Organisation (AEO). This is a notoriously difficult process which can take up to two years to become fully approved. However, once we achieve the accreditation, we are able to tender directly to Government organisations which will open more doors with respect to work winning.

Which projects is the business currently targeting?

The new International Airport and associated Infrastructure planned within Western Sydney would be a fantastic project to secure work on, as well as the Light Rail extension also planned in Sydney. I would also like to partner with Tier 1 organisations to deliver projects further afield in Australia.

We also want to work directly for Sydney Trains and Transport for New South Wales who run, operate and deliver infrastructure improvements for the New South Wales Rail Network. Work in other Eastern Seaboard States is also high on our work-winning agenda.

How is the Rail Infrastructure different from the UK?

Each state in Australia has and operates its own rail infrastructure and as such, have different rules and procedures, not to mention different track gauges (narrow, standard and broad gauge), as well as the accompanying electrification systems. In Australia they operate a 1500v DC Overhead Wire System where as in the UK we operate a 25kV AC system or a 1500V DC third rail system.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced?

As a new entrant in a new market it can be difficult to be recognised for our capabilities, when competing alongside more established players. However, many of WHRS’s principal designers have worked in Australia for many years and are well respected within the industry.  Having trusted designers on board helps us when building relationships with leaders within the Industry. Currently we have to work with the existing design supply chain until we achieve AEO status. As a new company some existing design houses see us as a competitor and don’t want to encourage us by giving us work.  However, other design houses are willing to engage and partner with us to increase their overall offering to their clients.

What project will you be working on next?

The next major rail project being awarded in March 2020 is the “More Trains More Services” Project. This is a five year framework with the option to extend for another five years to deliver infrastructure improvements and new infrastructure running south from Sydney’s Central Business District. WHRS has jointly tendered with Laing O’Rourke and KBR for the project, and is also in dialogue with other delivery partners should they be successful on this phase of the scheme.