Maintaining order

A traditional freight wagon repair and maintenance company with true values at its core, Davis Wagon Services provides its customers with an invaluable lifetime package of support functions and expertise

Originally formed in 1908, W H Davis began life as a manufacturer of small wooden bodied mineral wagons. Today, over 110 years later, the company stands tall as the last remaining independent freight wagon manufacturer in the UK, with its core business revolving around three services, these being design and manufacturing, refurbishment and modification of existing rolling stock, andDWS 156 c 24-hour on-site maintenance and repairs. The latter is provided by its sister company, Davis Wagon Services.

Founded in 2007 to provide W H Davis with a vital after care offering that it previously lacked, Davis Wagon Services is a leading, entirely customer facing, maintainer of rail freight wagons within mainland UK. With its head office in Immingham, North East Lincolnshire, it is able to supply its clients – typically non-technical wagon owners, leasing companies, and Train Operating Companies – with a lifetime package of freight wagon support from the initial design through to build and field maintenance. It does so from a network of strategically located field depots, which gives the company the ability to deliver its expertise quickly and reach customers from Cornwall to Aberdeen.

Accredited to ISO 9001, 14001 and 18001 standards, as well as possessing RISQS accreditation, the company also operates under the slogan ‘Target 8’. This represents the incredibly impressive fact that Davis Wagon Services is currently working towards its eight year without a reportable accident, something that it considers to be a true barometer of its commitment to doing things safely and right first time, every time.

First joining the business in 2008, Davis Wagon Services’ Managing Director, John Hall, has first-hand experience of how its story has been one of peaks, troughs and ultimately growth. “During the early stages of our development we operated with a peak of around 900 wagons under contract to us, however, following a period of time when freight operating companies made the decision to bring maintenance increasingly in-house this dipped to just over 600 in March 2010,” he explains. “Following this, and as a result of the hard work of our people, we gradually brought that figure back up to the point where today we have approximately 1500 wagons under contract.

“We have achieved this primarily by sticking to what we are good at, managing both risks and our opportunities, and by harnessing the fantastic team spirit that exists within Davis Wagon Services. We retain a family feel to our workplace, and we benefit greatly from having a team in place that operates on the same page and that shares a desire to develop the business and see it succeed.”

The success that John speaks of can be seen in a number of its well-earned contract wins, arguably none more so than in its work alongside Drax Power Station (Drax) in North Yorkshire. It was DWS 156 bback in 2011 that Drax appointed W H Davis – along with Lloyds Register Rail – to design and develop a total of 225 bespoke rail wagons to ferry biomass to the power station. Subsequently, it was Davis Wagon Services that was appointed the Entity in Charge of Maintenance (ECM) for the wagons in 2013, tasked with the in-service maintenance of the fleet.

One of the key demands placed on the company by Drax from the outset of this partnership was to have a fully functional, dedicated maintenance depot established to look after the fleet of wagons around the clock. Following much careful consideration, the decision was made to make a significant investment in revamping a mothballed rail yard in Ferrybridge, West Yorkshire, where Davis Wagon Services holds a ten-year lease as of 2015.

“In the time since,” John continues, “we have transformed Ferrybridge into a site wholly focused on the repair and maintenance of Drax’s 225 wagons, with the facility becoming fully operational in December 2017. From here, we do absolutely everything in our power to ensure that Drax has 200 wagons available at all times, as well as an additional maintenance set of 25 wagons, a swap around of which is carried out routinely every two weeks.

By essentially bringing the Ferrybridge rail yard out of the ashes and transforming it into a vital cog in the Servicesmachine that is Drax Power Station, Davis Wagon Services has been recognised by several industry bodies. In 2018, the facility was recognised at the annual Rail Freight Group (RFG) Awards where it won in the category of Rail Freight Project of the Year, while this year it was presented with the Asset Management and Maintenance Excellence award at the Rail Business Awards (RBA).

Moving forward, the key to continued success in John’s opinion is retention of the business it has worked so hard to win. “If we are contracted to deliver services to a customer then we will go out of our way to do just that. That means, when we bring new wagons into the business – and we have brought over 200 in over the past year alone – our priority is to embed them within Davis Wagon Services before we go about seeking our next move,” he states, before detailing how, behind the scenes, the company will also continue with the digitalisation of its activities. “This is something that is currently in its infancy, but by the end of 2019 we expect to be operating at least one fleet completely digitally when it comes to scheduling maintenance and recording maintenance, safety and quality checks.”

Longer-term, John has his sights set on a few targets for the company, for instance improving on the already high levels of customer satisfaction and retention, and to increase the number of wagons under contract. This will ensure that the current headcount of 58 continues to grow. “Reaching these targets doesn’t mean we stop pushing ourselves,” John declares, “but what we have to make sure we do is grow in a controlled manner. By doing so we can guarantee that we will continue to be successful in looking after all of our customers, from those who have been with us since day one to our new partners.”