With an exclusive dedication to the rail industry, Martinus is bringing the approach of a family-owned business to major rail projects around Australia and New Zealand.
Speaking with Treaven Martinus, over a video call in June, the CEO of Martinus Rail is back to where it all began almost 15 years ago, an office in his home in Cronulla.
“I’ve been in the rail industry through my whole working career and in 2005 I ventured out to start a product supply business for the rail industry,” said Martinus.
The business that he founded supplied turnouts to the Australian rail industry, is now delivering the largest track construction project in Australia, the Carmichael Rail Network.
“After seven years developing the product supply business, we saw the opportunity to diversify the business and expand into rail infrastructure construction,” said Martinus.
Over the next eight years, Martinus grew organically into a full-service rail contractor and expanded its presence across Australia, New Zealand and now Chile.
The company’s initial growth was driven by carrying out periodical maintenance across NSW for Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC). In 2013, Martinus set out its strategic five-year plan.
“The end vision at that point in time was to be a full service rail contractor for NSW, but, what happened in those five years, and it’s been a constant story throughout, is plenty of challenges along the way as we’ve had to change our direction depending on what barriers got put in front of us.”
The first barrier was focusing on the concentrated NSW market. Despite being based in Sydney, to this day, only three per cent of Martinus’ work is done in its home state, instead the company has gone where the opportunities are.
“There’s been a barrier to entry for us in Sydney which has been our success as it’s pushed us to go where the opportunities are,” said Martinus. “We only focus on rail infrastructure construction, we don’t do anything outside the rail space, so we had to go where the opportunities were, first being the Hunter Valley, then Brisbane was the next step, Victoria after that, and then we kept just diversifying regionally.”
The series of projects that Martinus would work on would develop the company from a maintenance contractor to a project delivery contractor in its own right.
The main contributors to the company’s early success in the construction space were two young, enthusiastic, and energetic engineers who are now part of the senior leadership team at Martinus, chief operating officer Ryan Baden and senior pre-contracts manager Toby Briggs.
“It’s always been our people who helped us reach the impossible, exceeded client expectations and were instrumental in supporting the growth of the business – and that has been the only constant for us,” said Martinus.
Martinus soon developed a reputation for its people, particularly for their strong work ethic, safe delivery of projects, and shared love for all things rail.
In line with their strategic plan, Martinus set out to win more work and they did this by targeting four main projects which met their skill set and strategic direction of delivering larger projects.
“The four projects we wanted to go for were the Port Kembla coal terminal upgrade, a $15m project, over two years; the ARTC Gunnedah yard rationalisation, a $10m complete re-build of the yard, signalling and drainage; Aurizon’s long term stabling facility in Hexham, the $8m subcontract for the track construction and supply of the materials; and then Morton Bay rail line upgrade where Theiss were the head contractor on that $1bn project and there was a 30-kilometre track package of works.
“We went for all these four projects and we won all four, and that was a huge turning point for us,” said Martinus.
“From there our reputation continued to grow, as did our in-house capabilities and soon enough we became the delivery partner of choice.”
The scale of these projects required Martinus to grow rapidly, and here the company would develop a core principle, one great person equals three good people. Particularly for Martinus himself, ensuring that the company had the right people on board was critical.
“I have, myself, no background in rail construction/contracting apart from seeing it, which led to the actual successes we had because I had to recruit people who knew what they were doing and then give them the autonomy and authority to deliver.”
In addition, with the projects spread out in regional areas across NSW and Queensland and as more and more project came online, Martinus had to decentralise some internal processes.
“To encourage autonomy across our project delivery, we implemented a project controls framework to empower our project teams,” said Martinus. “The framework has a strong focus on safety and provides project support for each team and is flexible enough to be tailored to suit each project.”
Having delivered those four projects in what Martinus describes as a hectic 2013, the company could consolidate its position as a full-service rail construction contractor. Today, the company has experience across all aspects of rail construction, from light rail works in Sydney to heavy haul in the Pilbara, and crane rail construction projects at major ports to underground metro rail in New Zealand. With the infrastructure pie only expected to grow, Martinus has invested in its people, processes and equipment so that the company can self- perform on the projects that it is bidding for.
“To sustain the business growth in our home markets of Australia and New Zealand, we invested more than $60m in three key areas of the business: our people, plant and systems over three years. This also speaks to our motto: growth always, in all ways.”
Martinus’ strategic investment will go a long way in solidifying their position in the market, particularly when it comes to Martinus’ depth of capability when it comes to delivering complex large-scale projects.
“Our model is to secure both greenfield and brownfield works across Australia and New Zealand and then deliver those works with our team and extensive range of multi- gauge plant ranging from flashbutt welding machines to ballast trains and track laying machines,” said Martinus.
When it comes to investing in people, Martinus is also finding a way around the skills shortage that is often thought of as afflicting the rail sector.
“We look for passionate railway professionals who are driven to succeed. We provide the right support and training to nurture future industry leaders,” said Martinus.
In addition, Martinus found people from outside the rail sector whose skills were transferrable. These hires were not only from other construction areas but from the military and hospitality industry, and to ensure they stayed, the company has focused on creating a positive culture.
“Because we hired some of those leaders that were not from the rail industry, they were fresh into the rail industry, it actually opened up our pool of the great people that we wanted to hire,” said Martinus.
Combined, these investments ensure Martinus can provide an alternate method for delivering rail infrastructure solutions for their clients.
Martinus attributes their current pipeline of projects to the hard work and dedication of their people, including the Carmichael Rail Network in central Queensland and the Forrestfield-Airport Link in Perth.
TACKLING FOUR CHALLENGES
In April 2020, Adani announced Martinus as a successful contractor for civil construction and rail works on the Carmichael Rail Network. The 200km narrow gauge rail line will link Adani’s Carmichael Mine to the existing Central Queensland Coal Network.
The $340m civil and track contracts have four unique challenges, said Martinus’ Chief Operating Officer Ryan Baden.
“The four big challenges are its remoteness, the start of the rail line is 200-kilometres from the coast, and then it goes another 200-kilometres south west from there. Second, is the complexity of the civil works which are currently underway. The third is ensuring we adhere to a significant number of strict environmental requirements and the fourth is the challenges around logistics.
“We’ve always undertaken civil construction in the rail corridor but compared to this they were minor civil construction. Now we’re delivering the port-side civil works, which is 86 kilometres of the earthworks formation with 10 multi-span superstructures – one that spans 50 metres, 87 culvert structures and three-million cubic meters of cut to fill.”
To meet these challenges, Martinus is turning back to the projects that have enabled the company to grow so rapidly.
“Our biggest success has been regional rail construction. Large regional rail projects fit our model, because to self-perform we hold a lot of white-collar and blue-collar expertise and plant that we have to keep busy,” said Baden. “We are expecting to have more than 600 workers on-site at the peak of construction.”
With regional rail projects, the scale and ongoing nature means that teams can be deployed for significant periods of time, rather than waiting for short-term possession-based work on metropolitan networks.
“The way we deliver regional projects is we have our core expertise that gets mobilised to the project and then we recruit, resource, and train from the region.”
Already, Martinus has 300 staff on site for the Carmichael Rail Network and the company has tapped into the local resource pool to engage workers and suppliers.
The approach is similar to the one taken by Martinus on previous projects, a large focus on community and industry engagement and set targets to employing, providing training opportunities and upskilling local people and engaging local suppliers.
Similarly, Martinus foresees an ongoing benefit from works on the Carmichael Rail Network.
“It will open up an area and there will be ongoing jobs in rail maintenance. There’ll be a larger fleet of rail wagons and coal wagons running around that will need to be serviced, it opens up the region to deliver more works,” said Baden.
“We are proud to support Adani’s commitment to regional job creation and partnering with local businesses.”
While Martinus is setting up camp in Central Queensland, its team are preparing in a very different way for another major project, the Forrestfield-Airport Link in Perth. The $1.86bn project is part of the West Australian government’s Metronet program and Martinus is working with the Salini Impregilo-NRW Joint Venture to undertake track and overhead wiring works.
The new line, which extends underneath the Perth airport and links up with the existing rail network at Bayswater combines greenfield and brownfield construction.
“It has large scale rail construction in the dual 8km tunnel where we’re delivering the slab track construction as well as the overhead wire and commissioning, including the brownfield connection at Bayswater Junction,” said Baden.
For a project of this complexity, comprehensive planning has to be undertaken. For the brownfield section, the style of operation goes to where the company first began.
“At the peak of works, we’ll have around 150 workers onsite. Not only will this help us deliver the project but it helps build our team and capabilities in WA, to ensure we are ready for new projects.
“Being solutions focused, we have to be mindful that our piece is a small piece in a very large project, and our team is flexible enough to be redeployed to help out another team or assist with other works,” said Baden.
“Some expertise are recruited locally but we have also brought in other expertise. The only way we’re going to have success is to build a self-sustaining business in WA,” said Baden. “It’s the same in every market, people want to be dealing with locals.”
“Every market that we’re in, we’re in for the long term. We plan to successfully continue our growth and stay true to why we did this in the first place.”