What is the future of Network Rail?
As my interview with Nicola Shaw shows today, it’s a devolved organisation that is able to secure private funding and spend government funds more efficiently.
But it is not only the financing and structure of the network that is set for a facelift: the operation of the 20,000km of Network Rail track is also readying itself for major change.
Creating a fully digital railway has been one of the organisation’s top priorities since Mark Carne took over as chief executive in 2014.
But what actually is the digital railway?
At its most simplistic level, it is the full digitisation of the network’s signalling systems.
This would allow trains to travel at closer distances - meaning more trains on the line to carry more passengers.
With the number of people using the rail network set to double in the next 25 years, the UK clearly faces a capacity problem.
Something which the country “can’t build its way out of”, said Mr Carne at an event held by Construction News’ sister title NCE.
But for those of you who are concerned about how the digital raiway will impact your work, Ms Shaw insists it is something that should not be feared.
“The biggest thing digital rail can do is release capacity,” she says. “More trains and more people travelling will require more support from construction.”
And there are other opportunities too.
While the major signalling contracts are likely to go to firms like Siemens and Alstom, these signals will need to be installed and modified.
Skills and expertise contractors already have.
With Mark Carne’s aim of creating a fully digitised network in the next 25 years, that means a pretty solid pipeline of work.
And, naturally, some are already looking closely at it.
As one industry source told me recently, “We are definitely interested, it is just a matter of getting our head around what is needed.”
And this is what the construction sector needs to do: gain understanding.
As Ms Shaw says, what is needed from contractors is a “greater sensitivity to the technology”.
A sensitivity to the technology and a sensitivity to the new market the technology will create.
Read the full exclusive interview with Nicola Shaw now.
We will soon know whether the British public has voted to remain or leave the European Union. One thing is for certain, the decision will have a massive impact on the construction sector. Follow Construction News online tomorrow for all the reaction to the in or out vote.
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