‘Either the industry steps up to the plate and does it collectively or we wait to have it thrust upon us,’ Network Rail chief tells meeting in Parliament

 

Andrew Haines

 

Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines has called on train operators to work with him ahead of the rail review to develop more effective and integrated accountability structures for delivering the benefits of major projects.

Reflecting on the failed May timetable changes, Haines said he had put thoughts to industry colleagues on how all parties could work together better to achieve the results government and passengers require. He warned that failure to make progress could see the decision taken out of the industry’s hands.

“Either the industry steps up to the plate and does it collectively or we wait to have it thrust upon us,” he told a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Rail Group. “My view is that if we are serious about delivering for passengers and freight and want to continue a growing railway and make a case to the Treasury for further investment, we should be collectively creating that.”

He said the alternative was to wait for the Williams rail review and subsequent government-driven reforms.

Let’s big up as an industry and collectively take ownership for these issues and have some honest conversations … it’s a behaviour and muscle we haven’t developed for quite a long time

“I make a very clear pitch,” he added. “Let’s big up as an industry and collectively take ownership for these issues and have some honest conversations … it’s a behaviour and muscle we haven’t developed for quite a long time.”

Haines highlighted delivering digital rail technology as “the ultimate test case of our ability to transform, not because it’s the answer to every prayer, I think it had been significantly over sold, but because it’s effectively about transferring signalling from track to train. You cannot do that unless you have an integrated system”.

He explained that in his view the digital railway will only be affordable if all parties involved develop a whole industry business and benefits case, for example because the cost would not be justified through infrastructure-related financial savings and funders may not wish to use any additional capacity generated immediately.

He added that with digital signalling planned initially on the East Coast Main Line, the forthcoming East Coast Partnership franchise could offer an appropriate test bed to develop the whole industry case required due to the intention to develop integrated management structures. He also pointed out that the public-private partnership franchise arrangement could provide a relatively benign environment in which to test the alignment of commercial incentives.

 
‘Too much focus on iconic projects’

Network Rail’s new chief executive Andrew Haines has indicated that one of the key principles that should underpin investment to increase capacity and service reliability in regional cities is considering a move away from major projects to a series of smaller works.

At a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Rail Group, Haines said that often regional stakeholders become wedded to their network receiving major investment in “must have”, “iconic” schemes. However, his instinct was that incremental investments may often be a better choice to improve services faster and at lower cost.

What tends to happen is that people get iconic schemes in their head … I just don’t think a fixation with big schemes is actually delivering the passenger benefits in a timely way

“Let me throw caution to the wind,” Haines said. “What tends to happen is that people get iconic schemes in their head … I just don’t think a fixation with big schemes is actually delivering the passenger benefits in a timely way.”

Referring to proposals to install two additional platforms at Manchester Piccadilly, Haines characterised the scheme as providing only one additional train per hour because it does not resolve bottlenecks at either end for a cost, on current forecasts, of £1.2bn with delivery likely to be a decade away. Haines said he was “not dismissing the necessary infrastructure” but different options should be examined.

On Haines’s instruction, Network Rail is working with Northern to examine a more holistic and incremental approach to increasing capacity through Manchester which may or may not include additional platforms at Piccadilly.

 
This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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