Recruitment and training for maintenance on the Thameslink Programme

This case study considers the recruitment and training that was required across the enhanced Thameslink route.

Recruitment and training

This case study considers the recruitment and training that was required across the enhanced Thameslink route to ensure that the increased service frequency was backed up by a strong and responsive maintenance team. This would be the only way to maintain the reliability of the Thameslink railway consistently at the level required.

There were two requirements. Firstly, the existing workforce had to be trained in the maintenance of the new assets. Secondly, there was the recruitment of new people to supplement the existing maintenance teams plus their training as well.

The frequency of service on the Thameslink route required a team of technicians who could be mobilised quickly, could find, isolate and fix any railway faults safely and have the right equipment and railway access that they needed to maintain a high performing asset.

  1. Key challenges

  • How to hire more than 200 new staff quickly for deployment.
  • How to fund, organise and plan the recruitment of so many people.
  • How to attract skilled people to the rail industry.
  • How to deliver the right facilities, equipment and accommodation that these new and expanded teams would need.
  • How to provide training quickly, as and when the teams required it.

Additional funding was secured to assure the reliability of the Thameslink route. From this, a £30million operational expenditure was proportionally assigned to increase the sizes of maintenance teams in the north and south and provide welfare, training and accommodation.

Once the funding was agreed, the formation of a support team began and the start of the recruitment process could get underway. A plan was developed for the recruitment and training of new and existing people across the London North East, East Midlands and South East routes.

The types of roles that would need to be filled were mostly in track, signalling and electrification functions, to deliver a combination of proactive (enhanced maintenance) and reactive (rapid response) teams. After consultation with the unions regarding the organisational changes, the recruitment and training programmes launched to seek and upskill people to be appointed into the new roles. These programmes were managed outside of the usual processes due to the scale of the requirements – rail supervisors and line management staff would not have the time on top of their safety-critical day jobs to manage the administration and logistics that this would entail.

For this reason, dedicated training and recruitment teams – a project manager, a planner and administrators were set up to support the process without impacting business as usual work.

Skilled operatives with the right experience were in short supply. People were recruited from various places including London Underground and other comparable industries that have similar skills in a safety and electrical environment including the armed forces. Many people were found in-house through published vacancy lists but there were also a large number of new entrants to the industry who needed full training. Some came to Network Rail from the rail contractor market as they recognised Network Rail as a great employer to work for.

Many of the new people were employed to bolster existing teams at various depots. The rest were allocated at new depots in the Streatham and New Cross Gate areas. With this number of additional people, investment in new or upgraded accommodation and welfare facilities was required to provide suitable mess rooms, drying areas, showers and offices. All accommodation was male/female segregated and team-leader’s offices were kitted out with filing facilities and computers.

Out on the network itself, as well as investing in the people and their welfare, new lineside access points to the railway were provided along the route of the Thameslink line. This would help the teams gain access to fault areas more quickly. Tactical Spares ‘pods’ were installed along the route to reduce the time required to get parts to fix faults and lineside welfare facilities were also provided.

Accommodation and tactical spares are covered in more detail in a separate case study.

  1. Lessons learned and recommendations for future projects

 The following learnings and recommendations are based on the direct experiences of the Thameslink Readiness Programme:

  • A well-funded support team needs to be in place before the start of any large-scale maintenance change programme. A programme of this scale requires trainers, planners, administrators and a project manager to cope with the logistics of handling so many interviews, the training schedules, the administrative duties and enquiries.
  • The injection of a significant lump-sum of funding is important to a programme such as this when trying to attract skilled people. The investment enables a team to handle the project without impacting the day to day running of the railway.
  • It is a lot harder to find skilled people than you might expect, particularly with an electrical and rail safety background. Some people have many complex reasons for taking on railway roles including remuneration, working hours, location and role flexibility.

It is important for project teams to have a strong working relationship with the operational teams at the earliest possible stage of design and procurement. This then helps ensure that the funding is invested in the most suitable equipment, facilities, spares and replenishment processes that the end-users will require during their maintenance call-outs.


Case Study produced by Michael Gates, Thameslink Readiness, Network Rail, July 2019.

Further information

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