Slightly overshadowed by the budget, the governments construction strategy and a host of other key documents, last month saw the release of Nicola Shaws final report and recommendations for the future shape and financing of Network Rail.
Our blog in December covered the consultation document that discussed potential solutions while providing opportunity to provide your own thoughts and opinion on the subject.
Over 10k responses were provided to the report team, demonstrating the importance of the subject to people around the country.
6 key themes were identified in those responses:
- A rejection of the wholesale breakup of Network Rail
- Opposition to the privatisation of NR
- A desire to maintain historical level of investment in our rail infrastructure
- A frustration in the quality and reliability of service
- Lack of accountability
- A sense of disempowerment
The report team used these findings as well as its own analysis, to develop a core problem statement for rail infrastructure management in the UK.
This analysis identified four core problems that needed to be looked at in detail for Network Rail to progress and deliver its ambitious future targets:
- A lack of financial control
- A lack of local flexibility and autonomy
- The railway needs to function as an interoperable system
- The railway is struggling to be sufficiently attractive to a new generation of people
How to fix a problem like Network Rail
To address these problems, the report focuses on 7 recommendations that if implemented would look to overcome these issues. The report highlights the interoperability of the recommendations and the need to implement them all if to be truly successful.
The seven recommendations can be summarised as:
- Place the needs of passengers and freight shippers at the heart of rail infrastructure management
- Focus on the customer through deeper route devolution, supported by independent regulation
- Create a route for the North
- Clarify the government’s role in the railway and Network Rail
- Plan the railway based on customer, passenger and freight needs
- Explore new ways of paying for the growth in passengers and freight on the railway
- Develop industry-wide plans to develop skills and improve diversity
The wholesale privatisation and break up that was considered has been ruled out with greater devolution the preferred way forward. This would allow for enhancements planning to be led locally and agreed at route level by route boards working with key stakeholders. The aim of which ultimately being that the enhancements are better focused on customer, passenger and freight needs.
There are a number of interesting financial models discussed within the document for attracting private finance, tempered with a number of case studies such as Metronet that show us how it can go wrong if ultimately it’s not the right answer.
Through implementing the 7 recommendations it is thought that network rail will:
- Improve its financial discipline
- Improve training and establish a culture that attracts and retains a skilled workforce
- Protects safety and the integrity of the national railway infrastructure
- Establishes greater local responsiveness, bringing accountability closer to the customer and local groups.
Is it enough?
Some aspects of the scoping document looked towards revolution but as expected it is evolution that is recommended.
The recommendations are purposely pragmatic in so much that it realises that something of the size and scale of Network Rail can never be perfect but it can be much better than it currently is.
In its development the report team have worked closely with DfT, NR and a number of key stakeholders to ensure the recommendations within the document are achievable, with the aim of their implementation being completed by 2019.
It is good to see much correlation between this report and that of Hendy and Bowe it is now up to Network Rail and DfT to implement the change required to drive forward a better rail industry, the budget statement told us that a full response to the recommendations will be delivered later this year. We look forward to seeing what next in the evolution of Network Rail.
Is it enough? Only time will tell, the key thing is that something is done, that a response by government is put in place, implemented and seen through over the duration of CP5 in hope that the foundations of CP6 will be much more robust due to it.