A DONEGAL company has secured a multi-million pound contract to renew platforms as well as track, signalling and overhead line equipment at London’s King’s Cross Station.
Pod-Trak, who specialise in the construction and maintenance of transport infrastructure, was founded by Paul O’Donnell in 2007.
It’s a company that saw an opportunity, grasped it and has gone on to do incredibly well.
Today, the company, which is headquartered in Perivale, West London with offices in Bristol, Manchester, Doncaster and Letterkenny, employs over 300 people across the UK and Ireland.
This week, Paul (38) spoke to The Donegal News from his home in Harrow, north London, about the company’s journey so far.
A native of Crove, Paul is the son of Paddy (who celebrated his 70th birthday earlier this month) and the late Mary B O’Donnell. He has three brothers Pauric, David and Darragh.
After finishing school in Carrick Vocational School, Paul spending six years working throughout the UK and Ireland on various rail and infrastructure projects before setting up Pod-Trak in 2007.
At the time he had six people working with him in East London, renewing the conductor rail for Docklands Light Railway.
“It’s been a good success story and had worked out well for us. A lot of people have tried it but we were very lucky with our timing. Ultimately though it’s all about having a good team – that’s key – and I was very lucky with the lads I had with me,” he said.
“At the time I was working out of a van myself while my fiancée was doing the books at the kitchen table,” he added.
Brenda, nee McBrearty from Bruckless, has since gone on to become Paul’s wife and the couple have three children – Cillian (10), Charley (8) and Maggie (5).
“Behind every man there is a good woman and that is certainly the case for me. We met in Dublin and when we came over here she helped me get the business up and running. She played a bit part in those early days and still does today,” he said.
Paul worked as a machine driver for Sean Doogan in Bavin, Kilcar, during the school holidays. He took those skills to Dublin after finishing school and drove a rail machine and worked as a cabling foreman.
“We started the company because we thought we could do things better than what we were seeing other contractors doing at the time. I only expected to become a subcontractor with a small team but, thankfully, it’s worked out a bit better than that,” he said.
Contracts were soon secured from the likes of Transport for London, Transport for Greater Manchester and Heathrow Airport.
Last year, Pod-Trak were accepted by Network Rail to act as a principal contractor, opening up a whole new avenue of specialist works with the owners, operators and developers of Britain’s railway infrastructure.
“We’re an infrastructure provider so we work mainly in airports, railway stations and on fibre optic networks.
“At present, we’re working on a platform renewal job at King’s Cross Station in London while we’re also doing a job in Ringsend in Dublin, at the Pumping Station, for Airtricity. We’ve a job ongoing in Liverpool, on the Metro’s electrical system, as well as various other jobs around the country,” he said.
“In King’s Cross we’re lengthening the platforms as they’re changing the lay-out in a bid to get more trains in and out and to make it more efficient. We’re also working on the overheard power lines,” he added.
While the order book for 2021 remains strong, Paul O’Donnell admits that Covid-19 continues to bring its own challenges.
“It has put a massive strain on business but we adapted very quickly to it. We were robust enough to be able to carry on. It meant that people worked from home, where possible, while there was a big push over here to keep sites open.
“We found our order book filling up during Covid – we managed to secure more work and actually grew a bit,” he said.
“We were deemed an essential service and we had gangs out 24/7. We employ some fantastic people at Pod-Trak and we’re also lucky that we don’t have a big turnover of personnel,” he added.
Pod-Trak have employed quite a few workers from Donegal and Ireland over the past thirteen years.
“We still have a few Irish lads but many of them moved back when the good times came to Dublin,” he said.
Paul likes nothing better than to get home to Donegal with his family although trips have been less frequent since the pandemic.
“It’s hard trying to explain to children that they can’t get to see their grand parents but hopefully that will ease off once we get through March and the vaccine starts to be rolled out,” he said.
Paul remains optimistic about the future and is predicting a strong future for Pod-Trak.
“It was going to be our best financial year, but now I think we’ll be in line with what did last year which isn’t bad considering everything going on out there,” he said.