BakerHicks' rail director James Howles explains why he believes now is the ideal time for the company to launch its new electrification venture.
BakerHicks is a company with a habit for reinvention. The business, which employs around 390 people in the UK, can trace its roots back to the 1950s but the name - which combines the surnames of two of its founding company pioneers - has only existed since February this year.
Established in 1957, BakerHicks’ founding business was called the IDC Group - a name it kept for 30 years before being acquired by the Matthew Hall Group in the 1980s. IDC later merged with the engineering arm of the Matthew Hall Group, which in 1988 was bought by AMEC. The company changed hands again in 2007, becoming part of the Morgan Sindall Group.
The new name comes from Howard Hicks, the IDC Group’s chairman and chief executive, and Sir John F Baker, who had been the business’ research and development director. The change of name reflects a change in identity for the Morgan Sindall Group company, says director James Howles, who joined the business in January tasked with developing its capability in rail.
From stations to systems
James was formerly the rail infrastructure director for SNC-Lavalin Rail & Transit UK (formerly Interfleet) where he had a particular interest in electrification. He joined the rail industry in 2003, working for AMEC-Spie, and has gone on to work on projects such as the Great Western main line electrification and the Midland main line electrification programmes as well as leading two successful professional services framework bids for HS2.
James is one of three major appointments in rail for the business so far this year. Iain Court, who was rail director at WYG, AECOM and also SNC-Lavalin, and Steve Limbert, a technical consultant with more than 40 years’ experience working with overhead line systems around the world, have also joined the organisation in 2017.
It is electrification and overhead line engineering in particular where the business is looking to grow. ‘A lot of what we’ve done in rail has been in a station environment,’ said James, describing the company’s core design and engineering business. Recent projects include the design delivery of Whitechapel station, combining three complex rail systems in a challenging live environment as recently featured in Rail Engineer, and a new DLR station at Pudding Mill Lane. The company, which is based in Stratford-upon-Avon, has a portfolio of mid-sized station works for Transport for London, Network Rail and various train operators. In addition, it recently secured a major new-build depot project in west London.
James is currently putting together a new team in Derby to build up a base of rail systems expertise; he hopes to have a team of 10 in the city by this time next year. The first step was to find new premises and the company has recently acquired an office within Derby’s rail industry hub - one the country’s most substantial clusters of rail industry suppliers and skills.
With several major electrification schemes dropped over the summer, it could seem a strange time to launch a new electrification-focussed division, but James feels now is as good a time as any. ‘Even if you strip out all of the large-scale electrification schemes there’s still thousands of route miles of overhead line to maintain and renew.’
The team will be sufficiently specialist and flexible enough to deliver renewals but capable of also supporting larger enhancement projects in the future, said James. The new overhead line team will also be able to call upon the existing civil, structural, electrical, mechanical, high voltage engineering and architectural competence of the wider company to provide a holistic service. James said he wants to achieve the best of both worlds, building up a new client portfolio for BakerHicks while strengthening existing relationships with colleagues in Morgan Sindall Group to meet market demand.
As well as overhead line renewals and maintenance, James sees other emerging opportunities. For example, various orders for new rolling stock around the country is creating a demand for gauging and clearance works. There is also the potential for that overhead line design capability to be deployed in tandem with Morgan Sindall’s electrification team, bringing a new design and build capability to the market in time for CP6.
Opening in the market
Over the past few months, there have been a couple of examples of tier one engineering companies acquiring their competitors. ‘It’s something I’ve been watching for a while,’ said James, who believes the smaller pool of companies that are left as a result has opened up the market.
‘It feels as though it creates space for organisations like BakerHicks to grow into the market a bit more,’ said James, who is excited by the prospect of establishing a new name in the industry - even if that new name has been around as long - if not longer - than many of its competitors. ‘It feels like the market is ready and open for some new brands, some new faces.’