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Network Rail promises private funding project pipeline by December

The boss of Network Rail has promised to publish a pipeline of potential privately funded projects by December, as part of a raft of changes to attract more private money into the nation’s railways.

Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne (pictured) said that over the next two months the body’s eight geographical route teams would be drawing up lists of the projects that would be most suited to being delivered or funded by third-party groups.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Railway Industry Association in London last week, Mr Carne said: “People are very nervous about producing pipelines like this because they don’t want to make promises on things that won’t be delivered; nobody will want to put a station on this list because what if it doesn’t happen.

“We want to produce a pipeline… and part of the challenge for the industry is to make it good enough to be invested in.”

Mr Carne was speaking following the release of former government construction adviser Peter Hansford’s report looking into how the sector could better unlock private money to fund rail projects.

The report, titled Unlocking Rail Investment - Building confidence and reducing costs, was published in July and made a number of recommendations including drawing up project pipelines, allowing for more scope contestability and the establishment of an early development fund to assist in the creation of project investment proposals.

The Network Rail boss said he didn’t want the report to “sit on the bookshelf” and hoped it could act as a catalyst for changing the way railway projects were delivered.

Included in the lists will be a number of pathfinder projects, which will likely be among the first privately financed projects to be delivered on the UK’s network under the changes. 

Mr Carne said these could come in a number of forms and could range from the construction of car parks, to smaller stations and up to new railway enhancement projects, singling out the £500m Western Access line to Heathrow airport as a potential option.

As part of Network Rail’s other changes in response to the report, Mr Carne revealed that each Network Rail route team would be scored on how successful they have been in attracting private funding to projects, with the organisation publishing a regular league table ranking the best and worst performers.

He also confirmed that Amey chief executive Andy Milner would consult with contractors, developers and funders in the coming months to draw up standardised service level agreements between third-party funders and delivery bodies with Network Rail, with the new guidelines to be published next year.

“If you are delivering a project with Network Rail do you know exactly what you are going to get from Network Rail in terms of its asset projection?” Mr Carne said.

“At the moment you don’t, and that poses a significant risk to third-party developers, deliverers and therefore third party funders – we have to change that.

“I don’t want to write up the service level agreements; I want the industry to set these standards and set the timeframes they need to deliver these projects.”

The report from Mr Hansford came as the funds available for Network Rail in carrying out enhancements over its next funding period, which stretches from 2019 to 2024, look to be significantly lower than the £38.5bn package given to Network Rail as part of its CP5 agreement.

Mr Carne said the changes being put in place were largely in acknowledgement of this but did say Network Rail was currently in discussions with the Department for Transport over securing increased funding for this side of Network Rail’s work.

“We must collectively ensure that Network Rail achieves the funding from government for the next five years for operation, maintenance and renewals because that is bread and butter and we must secure funding for that, and we are working with Treasury hard at the moment to ensure increased funding actually,” he said.

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