Environmental News

Business improvement know-how gets rail business on track

Melbourne based rail maintenance contractor, McLeod Rail, has more than tripled its workforce and is expanding operations into New South Wales after installing a new integrated management system.

McLeod Rail was established in West Footscray in 1989, providing track construction services, maintenance work and rail infrastructure for large corporate and government clients. Demand was high and its range of light duty equipment and engineering staff suited the installation and repair of private sidings and smaller installation projects, thus avoiding competition from major infrastructure companies.

In 2009, managing director Mary Thompson, a veteran of the quarry industry, acquired McLeod Rail and set about rebuilding the company’s capabilities in what is a strongly growing market for rail maintenance services.

Ms Thompson wanted to expand the business safely and sustainably and for McLeod Rail to be more professional in its approach but she was aware the rail industry carries a high degree of operating risk. McLeod Rail did not have the management systems in place to support the sort of expansion she had in mind.

One of Ms Thompson’s first moves on taking over McLeod Rail was to contact Enterprise Connect, an Australian Government initiative that provides business improvement services to small and medium businesses, and request a business review. This service is available at no cost to eligible small and medium businesses and so far more than 16,000 businesses have sought and received advice and support from Enterprise Connect.

“The rail infrastructure sector was having a great resurgence and we were working with large corporate and government clients,” Ms Thompson said. “So we needed to have solid systems in place to ensure we could manage the many opportunities presented to us on a daily basis.”

Enterprise Connect business adviser Dale Thompson undertook a detailed review of McLeod Rail’s management and operational structure. He recommended applying for a Tailored Advisory Service (TAS) grant to help develop new operating systems to increase management’s control over operational processes and provide better marketing.

He also recommended the introduction of more effective information and computer technology, such as “smart hand devices” for point inspectors and laptops for point crews to monitor drawings and for administrative staff to manage wages and enter production data.

“Mary set about empowering employees and implementing the changes needed to strengthen the business,” Mr Thompson said.

With the aid of the TAS grant, McLeod Rail was able to overhaul its spare parts, equipment and stock. This involved retraining staff in lean management practices. Employees were trained to Certificate III level in areas of rail infrastructure, rail track and surfacing, rail structures and mechanical signalling.

McLeod Rail now has more disciplined operating procedures, a more stringent approach to risk management and effective incident reporting and detailed root cause analysis systems. The business has expanded its client base and increased productivity. It has achieved certification in the ISO 9001 Quality Management System, the 4801 Occupational Health and Safety Management System and the ISO 14001 Environmental Management System.

“The integrated management system we developed is absolutely fantastic,” Ms Thompson said. “It was ideally tailored to our business and our clients’ response has been really positive.

“There is a noticeable difference in the way we conduct business. Our key clients have acknowledged that and feel they are dealing with a professional organisation. And I can sleep better at night feeling that we are managing risk far better than ever before.”

Ms Thompson credited her staff with implementing the changes. “They took huge ownership in managing the system,” she said. “We’ve built something that’s very appropriate to the size and type of entity we have. I’m much more comfortable taking up the many opportunities that are presented to us on a daily basis.”

McLeod Rail has developed a new welding services division and has bought a lot of hi-rail plant (ie it can operate both on rail tracks and a conventional road), plus four specialist excavators.

“There are good opportunities to further expand into NSW in the Hunter Valley coal network and we are keen to move in this area,” Ms Thompson said.

McLeod Rail has opened a new office in the region to capitalise on opportunities from the coal industry. The number of employees has reached 38. Ms Thompson said she expected to have more than 50 employees within a few years as she expanded in NSW and explored opportunities to move into Tasmania and Western Australia.

Enterprise Connect is an Australian Government initiative that offers comprehensive advice and support to eligible Australian small and medium businesses to help them transform and reach their full potential. For more information, tel 131 791 or visit www.enterpriseconnect.gov.au.

Source: Enterprise Connect

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