11th January 2022

Van Elle’s Rail Director, David Buckley, reflects on 2021 and the plans for his team in the coming 12-months.

In the past decade Van Elle, the UK’s largest ground engineering contractor, has successfully delivered a broad range of rail projects.

Since January 2021, under the leadership of David Buckley, the rail division has further diversified and expanded to meet the changing needs of the rail industry. Here he outlines what has happened and the future plans.

Van Elle’s road rail vehicles to the rescue

In Newington, Kent, at the start of 2021, the team – made up of ground investigation and rail specialists – successfully completed an emergency project after a landslip covered the railway lines of a busy route in the South-East following heavy rain.

Strata Geotechnics, our in-house ground investigation team, were first on the scene and following a thorough site investigation.

Meanwhile, the rail team helped remove some 3,000 tonnes of spoil before piling and installing a 62-metre sheet piled retaining wall and rebuilding the embankment with more than 2,000 tonnes of engineered aggregate.

The project was so successful that not only were Balfour Beatty able to install additional drainage works during the two-week blockage, but the project was shortlisted for a Construction News Specialists Award for project of the year.

In the summer, for Network Rail’s Project SPEED, Van Elle’s new Rail Civils team began working on the Dartmoor rail line, bringing it back into use after some 49 years.

Since July, the specialist rail rigs have been deployed to the line between Oakhampton and Exeter, delivering the foundations and civils to support communications systems on the line.

To support the use of in-cab radios along the line, 25-metre-tall telecoms masts weighing three tonnes each have been installed – supported on helical piles incorporating a mixture of steel grillages and 60 precast 1.5 tonne concrete blocks.

Adopting modern methods of construction with offsite manufacture allowed for simultaneous mast installation.

Outline for 2022

In Wales, our team will continue the installation of foundations on the Core Valley Lines, supporting the transformation of the South West Metro.

In Scotland, we have been working for the past eight months on the overhead line equipment (OLE) piling at Carstairs. This is part of a huge decarbonisation programme planned over the next decade.

Van Elle will also be heavily involved in delivering the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), with projects such as Midland Mainline and Transpennine Route Upgrade (TRU).

We are looking forward to a busy year, where specialist plant and equipment will also likely be called upon to support major highways and station improvement and upgrade projects as well as rail.

Investment and innovation

To support the team’s plans and commitments for the upcoming year, Van Elle is investing heavily in both its people and extensive fleet. As a member of the 5% club a significant number of apprentices and engineering students have already been welcomed.

A Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Nottingham Trent university has sponsored a PHD student who is presenting to Innovate UK early in the year. The project, which aims to develop new technology will be used to optimise Van Elle’s Track Bed Stabilisation system to improve safety, make journey times more dependable and reduce maintenance costs. 

The team is also investing in the next generation of piling spec road rail vehicles (RRVs), innovating with partners to reduce carbon output through the use of HVO fuel and the use of Hydrogen RRVs is planned for the future.

For more information visit: van-elle.co.uk/rail-engineering  

Article featured in Rail Director, December 2021 edition