Providing a timely response to adverse weather across the UK

Gary Cowen, Project Manager CEFA
04 December 2020
Image of a train tunnel.
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Amey’s teams of engineers and operatives spend every day delivering vital public services which keep the UK moving by road or rail, neighbourhoods clean and tidy and buildings and schools open. Most of the time, the travelling public won’t even know our team is there working quietly in the background.

Yet sometimes, their work is thrust to the fore. Covid-19 has shown how critical the services we provide are to everyday life.  Throughout the pandemic, our Waste Collections crews have continued collecting household refuse, and our Defence teams have helped with the repatriation of the armed forces back to the UK. With winter upon us and the potential threat of ice and snow, our gritting teams will be on standby to help keep the UK moving.  

Its, not just the winter weather, extreme weather can take all forms: rainfall, heatwaves, cold snaps, high winds, and prolonged warm spells. Examples such as the Beast from the East in 2018 covered the UK in inches of snow in hours. At the same time, Storm Dennis will be remembered for its devastating winds and heavy rainfall, causing severe flooding. These type of events impact upon the UK’s infrastructure and the people that use them every day. And this is often the time where our teams are seen out and about keeping people safe and the network operational.

One such team that work behind the scenes are our asset management team on the Civil Examination Framework Agreement (CEFA). Examining Network Rail’s 60,000 assets across the UK, the team inspect and review every asset on the railway network to identify its condition and work needed to maintain each asset. These regular inspections and identification of work help to keep on top of the daily wear and tear the rail network faces.

Weather can cause all sorts of challenges for the team. Our Earthworks Team are focused on assessing Network Rail’s portfolio of embankments, soil cuttings and rock cuttings. Some of these are in excess of 150 years old and can be susceptible to extreme damage caused by adverse weather, such as prolonged periods of wet weather, when landslips can happen.

One of our Earthworks Route Managers, Gary Cowen, shares more about the crucial work his team undertake in Scotland.

My team and I look after approximately 2,800 kilometres of railway, or over 57,000 earthwork assets, across Scotland. The days are varied from spending time with our client, Network Rail, reviewing what the network needs, reporting back remedial work to being out and about on the track getting my PPE dirty. I’ve been with Amey since 2002 and I’m still impressed every day at the expertise of the people around me. My team varies between four and seven examiners at any one time. Our diverse skill set – from civil engineers to doctorates – encourages creative problem-solving and helps us challenge each other. It’s a really dynamic environment to work within.

 The most unusual element of my role is the varied hours I work, which no-one ever sees or knows about. From working throughout the Christmas period to leaving the house at midnight and returning at 5am – assessing earthworks can happen literally at any time of the day or night. My neighbours are none the wiser and see me as the person that works from home, little do they know!

 The team are adept at being flexible, especially in response to extreme weather incidents. During 2019/20, we attended over 500 call-outs on the Scotland route, include bridge strikes, embankment and slope failures, and overtopping and flooding around coastal routes caused by adverse weather. We maintained our ability to respond 24/7, 365 days a year. All calls are handled by our dedicated Call Centre and our route-specific on-call Duty Manager. Our accurate and detailed reports risk rate any defects for Network Rail to ensure lines can reopen safely for the public as quickly as possible to minimise disruption.

 I enjoy the constant challenge posed by my role and the rail network. I started my career working on the highways for Midlothian Council and was fortunate to meet a great colleague and manager who supported my career ambitions to move into an engineering role. I truly believe you should do the simple things well, bring the right attitude to work and take a chance every now and again.

 Most of all I enjoy the incredible scenery Scotland boasts. Railway assets are not always in tourist hotspots, so I’m lucky to be able to see some of its hardest to reach, most peaceful, beautiful places!”




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