Leading the way in wagon maintenance and repair

John Hall, managing director of Davis Wagon Services, discusses broadening its services and playing a wider role in ensuring the UK rail freight industry thrives

 Davis Wagon Services (DWS) is today recognised as one of the UK’s leading specialists in wagon maintenance and repair. It is a reputation that has been built over the last 15 years, since the business was created following the acquisition by WH Davis Ltd, the UK’s last remaining wagon builder.

“The objective of the acquisition was to broaden the services that WH Davis could offer to the UK rail market,” said John Hall, managing director of DWS for the last six years, but involved in the company since 2008. “This objective is still pivotal in today’s market where a collective collaboration still exists, and we have achieved sustained growth and development year on year.”

Business goals

DWS’s mission is to be a leading supplier of rail wagon maintenance, with its aims and objectives to exceed customers’ expectations in quality, reliability, delivery and cost through continuous improvements and customer interaction, while at the same time providing services that are technically and operationally superior but do not harm people or the environment.

“The last few years have been excellent and in the last 12 months we’ve increased our turnover by 17 per cent.

“We have continued to grow to meet our customers’ demands which has seen our turnover increase 283 per cent in the last 10 years,” said John. “It is important to make sure we are based where the wagons are operating. Our focal points and key objectives are always with our customers in mind, ensuring that we understand what their visions and aspirations are and how we can meet their expectations, while at the same time ensuring we are running a cost-effective business and trying to improve the environment of the industry.”

The company’s head office is located in Immingham, with nine outstations strategically positioned throughout the UK to support fleet owners with a robust, reliable and convenient service offering, spanning all areas of rail wagon maintenance and repair.

As a certified Entity in Charge of Maintenance (ECM), the business can also provide lifetime management of all types of fleet vehicles, ensuring the integrity of operational, regulatory and commercial requirements and obligations.

Growing stronger

“The business has gone from strength to strength and in the last 10 years our employee numbers have increased by 94 per cent and that has led to us taking on additional wagons with additional customers, ensuring that we can provide the service they need, understanding their needs,” said John.

“To see the business from where I came in to where we are now and see it grow and develop is such a proud achievement, but it wasn’t just me, it has been a real collective team journey with lots of committed people doing a lot of incredible work.

“But this is just the start. I want us to continue to develop our competency systems and to be able to develop our staff further. I also want to increase our nationwide coverage, providing the best facilities in the industry to allow for a quicker turnaround and positioning them strategically along the line of route to avoid any further mileage for the vehicles.

“As well as increasing turnover and profit, we have set specific milestones for the business to achieve in relation to customer growth that strengthens our position in the market.”

As a certified ECM, DWS can provide a comprehensive offering that not only spans a broad range of maintenance and total management services, but also ensures the safety and integrity of its customers’ fleets. Its rigorous processes and procedures comply with EU Directive 455/2011 (ROGS).

From a maintenance and repair perspective, DWS provides best-in-class maintenance and wagon repair solutions with all its depots having fully equipped mobile units able to react to situations which occur either in depots or on the main line.

It can also supply a full range of products to fit all types of rolling stock, from complex components to high-performing machine parts. The range of spare parts and components for rolling stock includes Y-series components (dampers, plungers, trunnions, pins and bushes,

springs and liners), headstock arrangement (draw hooks, screw couplings and tail pins), brakes and buffers (all buffer types and buffer capsules, overhaul of air brake equipment, brake blocks and brake pads), and TF25 wheel pans and axles.

Customer focused

John said: “We have 66 people in the business who are all customer-facing and passionate to put the customer at the heart of everything we do. We recognise our position in the industry and the role our expertise can play in fulfilling their aims and expectations, particularly based on more than 15 years of growing the business and taking our colleagues on that journey of developing their skills and capabilities.”

The key to DWS’s success is a passion to not just drive the business and its clients forward, but the industry as well, highlighted by John’s director role at the Rail Freight Group. He began his railway career in 1998 at the former York Carriage works at Thrall Europa, working at Marcroft Engineering in 2003, before joining DWS, initially as operations services manager.

“As an industry we need to make sure rail freight is in the conversation and that it isn’t the poor relation to the passenger industry,” added John.

“During the height of the pandemic when fewer passenger trains were running, the freight sector was far more punctual, showing how effective rail freight can be on the network when given the respect it deserves.

“With the support of our customer base, we want to try and improve the working conditions and facilities for where our staff operate. Our Ferrybridge facility for Drax vehicles sets the precedent of what can be achieved in collaboration. Here a mothballed rail yard was transformed into a dedicated site to rebrand and maintain the power station’s fleet.

“We are constantly looking at how we can make our depots safer, improving the working conditions, but it all boils down to finances and working collectively with the wider industry as this has to come from a collective investment and not just one organisation. In an ideal world, the majority of the work would be done undercover, but I do feel there will always be a field-based element to maintenance. Through our continual improvement programme, we continue to put the welfare of our colleagues at the heart of everything we do.”

John also believes the rail freight industry faces some major challenges when it comes to recruitment and is urging the industry to come together to play its part to attract the next generation.

“It is an issue we’ve experienced at DWS and has been an area of emphasis when it comes to the retention of our staff, creating the best working conditions we can and making sure they have the opportunities to progress and develop and we are seeing improvements,” he said.

“There is a challenge across the whole rail freight industry in making it more attractive, particularly around transferring the skills of traditional maintenance methods. We must make sure that industry colleagues feel valued, and that the industry continues to develop facilities and improve the working environment.”

Hugely optimistic

“It goes beyond the immediate recruitment challenges though, new technologies and additional power sources will mean a whole new set of skills will be required, something that has never really been needed before, not just at an operational level, but at all levels. Passenger trains have monitoring systems on all the vehicles which tell people when the vehicle needs attention and the freight industry needs to follow suit in that direction, but we recognise it comes at a cost to the industry.

“Overall though I am hugely optimistic for rail freight in the future. We have some incredible people working in the industry and it is now about coming together to invest to make it an even better industry for our colleagues and customers.”

For more information, visit https://daviswagonservices.co.uk