Wembley, King's Cross, the East London Line and Crossrail ? Taylor Woodrow seems to be winning a slice of every rail project these days. Phil Bishop talks to infrastructure director Brendan Morahan
THIS year represents a step change in Taylor Woodrow's involvement in the rail sector.
'It has been a very good year, ' says the firm's infrastructure director, Brendan Morahan.
For the past five years the sector has generated turnover in the region of £25 million a year for Taywood. This year it will be £70 million, and well on course to the £100 million the company is aiming to level out at.
Since Taylor Woodrow Plc reorganised in 2000, positioning itself predominantly as a house builder, the contracting arm of Taylor Woodrow Construction has had to focus closely on those projects and markets that offer the promise of good rewards.
'We avoid the bear pit, ' says Mr Morahan.
'We want to get involved in those schemes that are problems to our customers. Technically difficult, logistically challenging ? they're the things not everyone can do.' Rail, along with airports, was identified from the outset as one of the very few target markets that fitted the bill. At first sight this might be considered surprising, since Taylor Woodrow does not have the broad, multi-disciplinary capabilities across civil, mechanical, electrical and signals engineering that are required to build railways.
But where Taywood has built up its rail por tfolio is in and around stat ions, rather than laying or maintaining track. Familiar building work, perhaps, but in an unfamiliar and often technically challenging environment.
Mr Morahan, although only 42, has been with Taywood for 26 years, having joined straight from school.
'We've had quite a long history in and around the rail market, ' he says. 'We have been involved with London Underground Ltd in its various guises for decades now.' Much of this work has related to ticket off ices.
But it was the Railtrack station regeneration programme after rail privatisation in 1995 that prompted Taywood to look more closely at the railways. 'That really opened our eyes to the investment going into the rail infrastructure in this country, ' says Mr Morahan. The company picked up the contract for the north-east.
More recently, Taywood was involved in the Jubilee Line Extension at London Bridge station. In 2002 it built a depot for Bombardier at Central Rivers in Derbyshire. And the current workload includes a new depot for Siemens in Ardwick, Manchester; a new ticket hall for London King's Cross station under Euston Road; remodelling of Wembley Park tube station and the £30 million advanced works contract for the East London Line Extension.
'All of that has raised our profile and the market then tends to dictate we get involved in larger projects, ' says Mr Morahan. 'We are creating a good business for ourselves and in doing this we are creating a good business for our customers.
When you do that, things tend to grow.' Taylor Woodrow has also secured a position in the Crossrail team to be programme manager for the enabling works. It has a team of six within that project.
'We are gaining exposure in the market, building relationships and developing the people. And we are continuing to deliver on our promises.' Perhaps it has been wise to have stayed away from any thing to do witht racks or trains, where other contractors seem to have attracted nothing but negative publicity.
Mr Morahan says Taywood is not without experience of the actual railway aspects of the sector. At King's Cross it is managing a difficult interface with a live railway and the Siemens depot had a couple of kilometres of track within it, although this part of the work was subcontracted.
Any track and signalling work Taywood takes on in the future will also be subcontracted or carried out by joint venture partners. For example, for the main works contract for the East London Line Project ? likely to be worth in the region of £400 million ? Taywood is in a consortium with Costain (its joint venture partner at King's Cross), Siemens for the systems and First Rail for the track.
Mr Morahan says Taylor Woodrow has no intention of acquiring or developing track and signalling capability.
'That is not in our current strategy at all, ' he says. 'At the moment we are positioning ourselves where we have core competencies and are most attractive to customers.' The only blot on the landscape has been the stalling of the Thameslink 2000 project. Had that gone ahead, and had Crossrail moved move swiftly, the £100 million target might have been reached already. Uncertainty over future funding in the rail sector creates difficulty for contractors to align their business plans to those of the clients, he says. 'The supply side would like greater transparency in long-term expenditure.' But in general he finds that the procurement climate is improving. 'From a personal point of view I think it is pretty healthy. I can see that there is a desire to get beyond lowest cost. I've noticed a greater transparency and openness and willingness of people in rail to ensure the tarnished history of the sector is improved. While there may not be partnering with a capital P, there actually are real partnerships.' All this success brings the traditional problem of a growing business ? finding staff. 'We have some excellent people, some new to rail and some who have been in it all their lives, but we are constantly on the lookout for more good people.'