Image Credit: RUAS
Network Rail is preparing to expand its existing framework of drone companies it has at its disposal to increase its aerial operations coverage nationwide.
Speaking exclusively to Commercial Drone Professional, Rikke Carmichael, head of air operations and Paul Lindup, project manager in specialist aerial services, described how the implementation of the new framework is imminent.
Lindup confirmed: “The new framework is on the cards at the moment and should be going live in the next few weeks to then progress and increase the size of that coverage of companies.”
Giving an insight into how drones are used within the firm, he continued: “Also, inside of that, we have in-house drone operation and that has been under a trial header really for the last two years.
“That started around December 2017 and has only just come to the end of the trial just recently. That was set up to train up and equip Network Rail employees to see what they can do within the company using their own expertise and experience within their day jobs.”
Drones at Network Rail were starting to be used around four or five years ago as the team explored what they could get out of aerial operations in addition to the use of a helicopter.
The framework was then set up just over four years ago to provide them with specialist aerial survey work by drone across the country, by specialist companies.
Four companies that came on the first framework have continued to run more or less the same until now when the team is looking to expand.
Commenting on when and how the framework is used as opposed to the in-house team, Lindup added: “All the specialist survey work by drone has been outsourced to the framework. It’s then only the smaller projects which are less complicated that have been trialled by in-house drones.”
“It [the in-house work] has been going very well but it is not going to replace the framework, it is there to supplement the Framework and work alongside it.”
Most of the work carried out by drones within Network Rail is done assess and inspect equipment in ‘preventative work’ as a means of identifying and dealing with a problem before it becomes one that slows down or even stops operations.
In order to acquire new companies for the framework, Network Rail put the applicants through a process to ensure they can represent the company in the right way.
Lindup explains: “It is through a fair tender process. So, for the current Framework, or the new framework that will go live in the next few weeks we have actually gone through a twelve month process to find the right company to come and work with us.”
“That was an open tender process where they have all applied for it and we’ve basically, or are still in the process of, marking these companies to ensure they fulfil all of the requirements that we need. So it’s not locally, what we’ve got a Framework that will cover the nation for the whole country, and that is managed through ourselves at air operations.”