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Train companies to be rewarded for helping contractors

Contractors could benefit from Network Rail plans that will incentivise train operators to help construction firms carry out work more efficiently.

The Office of Rail Regulation will allow Network Rail to include payments made to train operators in overall project costs if a line is closed while work is carried out.

For example, it might be more cost effective for Network Rail to pay a freight train company for a 10 minute delay to their journey in order to maximise working time on the track.

It will also permit the companies to take a share of savings made on projects if they help projects to be done more efficiently.

For example, a train operator could make small timetable adjustments to accommodate works such as changing the time at which it moves a train from one depot to another in order to maximise contractors’ working time on the track.

The changes are intended to encourage the operating companies to assist Network Rail to carry out construction work more efficiently.

Contractors can already share in money saved through more efficient planning of work. Including the train operating companies in the incentive scheme is intended to make it easier to do the job faster and for less money.

Speaking to Construction News, Alan Price, director of railway performance at the Office of Rail Regulation said closer working between Network Rail and train operating companies was already happening in some places and allowing more construction work to be done.

“We have seen benefits in terms of high outputs of track,” he said. For example in November teams renewing the railway in near Salisbury were able to get 10 hours per night of access –longer than normal – because signallers were able to hold up passenger trains when the team occasionally needed all lines blocked during the work.

The team were able to renew over 700 yards per night. Previously operators had little incentive to help Network Rail save money on construction projects, Mr Price explained.

Mr Price added that Network Rail would have to demonstrate to the regulator how they proposed to incentive the companies when setting out their plans for the projects.

The ORR has also asked Network Rail to come up with climate change resilience plans for its routes by September. Mr Price said the railway operator already had a “very good” plan for the Western region, some of which is currently dealing with floods.

Plans for the West include a scheme worth £6.5m to £13.4m to install a higher track slab and improve to a bridge and culvert to cut flooding, damage and closure time at Cowley Bridge Junction between Tiverton and Exeter. “The government is not funding them to make a bullet proof railway but we do want it to be more resilient,” he said.

For the next spending period, Control Period 5, which runs from 2014 to 2019, the regulator will set Network Rail targets for the quality of information it holds on the state of its assets. If Network Rail does not improve this sufficiently then it could be fined by the regulator.

The change is part of a drive by the ORR to incentivise Network Rail to keep the railway well maintained. The regulator criticised them for trying to exceed financial performance targets in the short term by cutting back on capital spending, even though this would eventually damage longer term performance.

Mr Price said: “If we have a problem with asset condition it feeds into performance. But there is clearly a time lag.”

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