Atkins to axe 130 signalling engineers as work fails to show

Atkins has begun consulting with around 200 signalling design and testing engineers and construction staff, to find 130 job cuts needed due to falling workloads in design and construction of signalling projects for Network Rail. The consultant holds positions on two of NR's signalling framework contracts, for the Anglia & Kent, plus Sussex & Wessex areas, but needs to lose around 30% of its 430 signalling design and construction staff due to work not coming through as strongly as planned for.

"We remain fundamentally focused on being a dominant player in the UK rail market, but there are issues within that market due to unforeseen circumstances," said Atkins Transportation UK managing director Phil Hoare. "We geared up for significant volumes of signalling work to be delivered in CP5, but then in the overall settlement of how work was distributed, some projects didn't materialise and now others have been shifted to the right within NR's overall programme."

NR's CP5 investment delivery plan has been revised after a number of major projects were found to be exceeding estimated costs and programme timescales. A review conducted by NR chairman Sir Peter Hendy resulted in an additional £2.5bn being added to the CP5 budget, taking it up to £40.5bn – to be funded from an additional £700m from the Treasury and £1.8bn from NR asset sales. No projects were scrapped from the programme but several, including major line upgrades, were reprogrammed so that GRIP delivery phases 5-8 for design and construction now fall into CP6 from 2019-2024.

"One project that has impacted us because it has been pushed into CP6 is the East-West Rail upgrade, a change which has coincided with a number of other schemes coming to a close. There is no blame to be handed out for these circumstances. It is just an unfortunate combination of problems and budget pressures," Hoare said. "We are retraining some staff and looking at every opportunity where possible for people to transfer to other parts of the business."

Opportunities may come up for some staff to transfer to Atkins projects in Europe after the consultant has merged its UK Transportation division with its Scandinavian civil engineering business. These two arms of the overall  Atkins business are being joined up for a number of reasons, Hoare said: "The EU referendum result was unexpected, but we remain with a clear view on our strategy and objectives and are continuing with what we want to do. Atkins Transportation will operate as one business across the UK, Sweden, Denmark and Norway, firstly because there are significant spending plans for the Scandinavian region including high speed rail and metro projects, which can benefit from the UK's design and build expertise. And conversely, they are ahead of us by about five years, in development of ETCS (Electronic Train Control System), digital railway and future signalling technology. These are skills that will be very useful as the UK develops its digital railway expertise.

"We plan to work with our European colleagues to build a strong platform of experience and expertise across the whole region and in all markets we work in, however that may look in future, because there is a lot of infrastructure investment to come. We want to be a pan-European player in future and we want to be at the lead of shaping changes to transport technology."