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Where next for Network Rail?

News last week that two major electrification schemes have been ‘paused’ came as no great surprise to those in the industry.

It is clear that delivering the biggest infrastructure upgrade programme to the rail network that we have ever seen comes with enormous challenges, some of which, it appears, were not anticipated to the extent now known.

Ambition has been high and the huge efforts of staff and the supply chain at Network Rail remain commendable, but if a significant overspend of the CP5 programme as a whole is forecast then projects will inevitably fall from the schedule.

So why choose electrification projects for Midland Main Line and Trans Pennine in the first place?

This is not about government changing plans and no longer being supportive of the creation of the ‘Northern powerhouse’.

“This is simply about pushing back projects that will have the least impact on the rest of Network Rail’s plans for the infrastructure”

This is simply about pushing back projects that will have the least impact on the rest of Network Rail’s plans for the infrastructure.

Getting priorities in order

The electrification of the Great Western route, for example, could not have been chosen as Hitachi are busy fulfilling its £4.5bn contract building Intercity Express trains to run on the route – this is not the case for Midland Main Line.

July will see Sir Peter Hendy leave Transport for London and start his new role as chair of Network Rail.

His first task will be to ensure that the balance of CP5 is deliverable, both financially and on time, and providing value for money – so could it be possible we will see some further programme changes?

Sir Peter will need to start to shape plans for the next control period, to ensure that the right type of possession regimes are planned and that designs and cost estimates are accurate, incorporating the lessons of the past few months.

Right route of delivery

He will also need to consider; whether the Network Rail delivery/operational model is optimal; are the collaborative relationships with its supply chain and train operating companies really working and delivering the expected benefits; is Network Rail listening to its supply chain; and is it an attractive employer when the biggest challenges the infrastructure sector faces are around the supply of the right resources?

“This news is not about Network Rail’s investment being compromised at the expense of HS2, nor Crossrail 2”

This news is not about Network Rail’s investment being compromised at the expense of HS2, nor Crossrail 2.

The short and medium term prospects of both will be decided separately in the forthcoming Spending Review.

This is about fully understanding  the challenges, rebuilding confidence in delivery and thinking differently.

The Treasury and government now recognise that investment in infrastructure creates great positive impact on the economy and industry needs to respond to this.

Economic growth only works if development is realised.

Will recent events damage confidence levels?

It is incumbent on Network Rail, under Sir Peter’s new leadership, to ensure all plans are deliverable, and possibly to consider what hasn’t in the past been considered: a different approach to possessions and blockades and the rapid repositioning of the industry to build confidence and breed success.

Mark Cowlard is a partner and managing director of transportation at EC Harris, part of Arcadis in the UK   

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