Empty tracks outside Allerton Depot in Liverpool

Collapse of Buckingham Group casts shadow over UK rail sector

Built by Buckingham Group, but the empty tracks outside Allerton Depot in Liverpool are indicative of the company's predicamentImage Buckingham Group

The weekend announcement of the financial crisis and imminent collapse of Buckingham Group Contracting, a prominent construction company with a significant presence in the UK rail sector, has sent shockwaves through the industry. The company, known for its involvement in major rail projects, has been grappling with escalating costs at three major sporting stadium contracts, leading to a sharp reduction in liquidity and making it unable to continue trading. The predicament of the compnay is raising concerns about the potential impact on the rail sector, including the rail freight industry.

Buckingham Group Contracting, which has historically played a pivotal role in the design and construction of several significant rail infrastructure projects, is also a frequent contractor for rail freight projects. Notably, the company was responsible for the construction of DIRFT 3, a crucial rail-connected freight hub utilised by Royal Mail for its parcels service. This facility at the Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal (DIRFT) has been integral to the efficient transportation of goods across the UK.

Own goal at three stadium contracts

The collapse of Buckingham Group Contracting could have significant repercussions for the rail freight sector. The company has hit the financial buffers and has stopped trading. A stark statement on the company website makes the position clear, but leaves little optimism about its continued existence – at least in its current form. That does cast a doubt over the stability of essential infrastructure projects, where the company is playing an active role. Industry experts are not so concerned about potential disruption to logistics operations at DIRFT in the English Midlands, where Buckingham completed the project in 2021. Royal Mail have a huge presence there, and only recently began testing their dedicated trains from the facility.

Platform level view of a train standing at Oxford Parkway
A low point for Buckingham Group, but highlights include the completion of Oxford Parkway station

The dire financial situation of the company has been attributed to significant losses and interim cash deficits incurred in the construction of three major sporting stadium contracts, alongside a substantial earthworks contract in Coventry. These projects have been plagued by unexpected challenges, including extreme inflation linked to the Ukraine conflict, contributing to the ballooning costs and financial strain that the company now faces. In response to the crisis, the board filed a Notice of Intention to appoint administrators, a step taken to protect the business while seeking potential solutions, including the sale of all or part of the company.

Bad memories of an earlier collapse

Stakeholders, including clients and interested parties, are being engaged to explore options that could mitigate the impact of the collapse and secure the best outcome for creditors. The Group’s involvement in the rail sector has been substantial, ranging from the design and construction of rail routes to the development of maintenance depots and distinctive, if not very pretty, multi-story car parks at several key commuter stations. Their contributions include the upgrade and doubling of the track between Oxford and Bicester, part of the Chiltern Railways route connecting London Marylebone and Oxford, and the western section of the East West Rail (EWR) scheme, where additional capacity for freight was a late addition to the specification.

Buckingham Group workers on the tracks in their orange PPE
Track workers (Buckingham Group)

The company’s challenges have underscored the interconnected nature of the construction industry and its vital role in supporting the functionality of various sectors, including rail. As efforts to salvage the situation continue, industry stakeholders are anxiously awaiting developments and hoping for a resolution that will minimise disruptions to critical rail infrastructure and operations. It is obvious that other contracting firms are watching with anxiety and reminders of the 2017 of contractor Carillion which, at the time, was a major partner of the infrastructure agency Network Rail.

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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