We take a look at the Rail Industry Contractors Association, which helps members provide the best possible service to the rail sector through information, inluence and integrity
The Rail Industry Contractors Association was formed back in May 1999 when Railtrack only wanted to speak with its principle contractors. Having a voice in the industry was the primary reason why an initial 24 companies decided to form what was then called the Association of On-Track Labour Suppliers (AOTLS). At the time Railtrack was still finding its way – both in terms of tendering processes and contract administration. Contracting was all too often confrontational, not least between principle and subcontractors.
A series of discussions at Loughborough University were arranged, which triggered the formation of no fewer than three trade associations. These were and are the Rail Plant Association (RPA), the Association of Rail Training Providers (ARTP), and the AOTLS. Over the years membership grew to over 50 by which time specialist companies and consultants had also joined in significant numbers. As a result it was decided to rename the organisation as the Rail Industry Contractors Association to more accurately reflect its makeup.
The Rail Industry Contractors Association (RICA) includes a wide variety of organisations amongst its members. Rail contractors and suppliers of agency staff trained in personal track safety still predominate but consultants and other specialists as well as the suppliers of goods and services also attend their regular Forum Meetings. Full membership is still reserved for companies that have qualified by audit to work on railway infrastructure in Britain.
The three I's
From the beginning the Association sought to work with rail infrastructure clients to improve safety and quality. More recently The Three I’s, Information, Influence and Integrity, have become the adopted cornerstones of the organisation. The Association sees its job as putting forward members’ suggestions and concerns, and trying to keep the playing field between competitors for work in the industry as level as possible. Maintaining and, where practicable, improving standards are equally important. Consequently, elected board and ordinary members with specialist knowledge and skills try to help infrastructure owners in developing better methods of working.
The Association has its own Code of Practice giving the board and their appointed independent chair the power to take action to censor or expel any member whose actions are deemed to be prejudicial to the interests of the Association.
Looking back over the years there continues to be regular dialogue with the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB), Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB), the Confidential Incident Reporting and Analysis Service (CIRAS) and many other organisations. All have provided speakers for the well-attended quarterly forums that are held near Birmingham. Network Rail tend to predominate due to their unique position in the industry but London Underground, Docklands Light Railway and others are also of interest to the members.
Cost & safety
Currently, and not for the first time, members are concerned by multiple audit costs and the complexity and cost of the Link-Up system. A few years ago the Association launched a campaign to simplify and reduce the number of safety audits taking place, which it described emotively as a form of commercial “death by audit”. This proved successful with the industry as a whole reaping the benefits.
RICA is now pleased to be working with a group led by the Rail Safety and Standards Board to simplify the system and reduce its cost whilst maintaining integrity. As chair of the Association Colin Wheeler has a seat at Network Rail’s Project Safety Leadership Group, which led the improvements to the standards for site accommodation, the review of cable avoidance tools, and the introduction of ‘All Orange’ personal protective equipment. RICA were, however, critical of the lack of coordination over the timing of the introduction of Network Rail’s maintenance and projects, and investments organisations. Whilst supporting the Sentinel scheme, its cost and level of compliance monitoring are a rising concern. RICA has also drawn the industry’s attention to differences between the standards that are applied by Network Rail, London Underground and other smaller rail infrastructure owners that increase both cost and risk. When it comes to safety initiatives, RICA together with the Rail Plant Association are ideally positioned to provide advice from “ballast scratched boots level” on the practicability and acceptability of any proposals for change by telling it as it is now.
Never a better time to join
Some time ago the Association led the way in identifying the fact that unnecessary and expensive multiple layers of insurance cover costs were being incurred by duplication of cover from principle contractors through layers of subcontractors and down to the agencies who were supplying skilled people working under the direction of others. It is perhaps not surprising that an insurance broker is one of the Association’s longest serving associate members.
In the current financial climate topics such as knowledge of future workloads from all rail infrastructure owners, Network Rail’s productivity targets, Control Period funding through the ORR, types of work and changing forms of contract, and methods of payment are all discussed. In addition the Association is pleased that Network Rail and others return to consult the Association at frequent intervals. Dialogue with London Underground and other rail infrastructure owners is more spasmodic but increasing. Recent initiatives include the beginning of a discussion with politicians and civil servants working towards the aims of the coalition government in reviewing the way railway work is carried out and its
As the country makes its way out of recession it is clear to many that the Association is ideally placed to play its part in the rail industry to the benefit of its members and the industry as a whole. RICA Membership began with 24 companies and rose to over 50 before dropping back a little, mainly and sadly due to the effects of the recession. However, Colin Wheeler – who has served the Association since its foundation – is adamant that there has never been a more important time for companies to be members, have a voice and be made aware of future workloads and working practice changes.
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