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Rail moves can shore up case for infrastructure

When it was announced Simon Kirby was moving from Network Rail to High Speed 2, much of the focus by the mainstream media was on his £750,000 salary.

But for contractors working in the rail sector, the more important questions are: how can they win work on HS2; what will Mr Kirby add to the mix; and, last but not least, coupled with Sir David Higgins’ departure, where does this leave Network Rail?

This week Construction News has an exclusive interview with Mr Kirby – the first since it was announced he would become HS2 chief executive. We have also spoken at length to HS2 commercial director Beth West.

Taken together, they make it clear what the two clients want from you over the next few years - and what you can expect from them.

Nervous industry

With new Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne, the departures of not just Sir David Higgins and Mr Kirby but finance and commercial director David McLoughlin, and senior staff changing roles within the organisation, there are a lot of moving parts.

Inevitably this makes some contractors nervous. Control period 5 has some challenging targets built into it, not least the ambitious health and safety targets.

“Having staff move from one organisation to the other should help strengthen the collaborative working that will be required”

No one is arguing with the goal - Mr Kirby is quite right when he says the rail industry still has a long way to go on safety - but they want reassurance over the delivery.

However, fresh faces at the top are often the right thing for an organisation in transition.

As Mr Kirby points out, the offshore oil and gas industries perform better than construction when it comes to day-to-day safety; having a former Shell executive vice-president as your CEO is no bad thing.

Convincing on capacity

What’s more, having former Network Rail leaders as the decision-makers within HS2 means they can present the public with a far more convincing argument on capacity - Sir David and Mr Kirby have seen the future, they know how bad things would be on the wider rail network without the addition of HS2.

And, as Mr Kirby points out, having staff move from one to the other should help strengthen the collaborative working that will be required, including on skills shortages.

As Ms West tells us: “There are huge opportunities but you need to get yourself ready to take them.”

Her message is for contractors - but it can just as appropriately be applied to the clients, too.

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