Fewer Network Rail ‘mega projects’ in CP6

THE first details of Network Rail’s Strategic Plan for the five years from 2019 have been revealed. The investment emphasis will be different, with fewer ‘mega projects’ such as London Bridge on the agenda in Control Period 6.

The administration of Network Rail was also complicated during CP5 when the organisation became a public body in September 2014. This meant that NR was no longer free to raise investnent funds on the open commercial market and now depends largely on Treasury funding.

The CP6 budget consists of £10.1 billion for enhancements (mostly continuing the projects started in CP5), £18.5 billion on operations and maintenance, and a further £18.5 billion on renewals.

NR faces a major challenge in the next three Control Periods. For example, 63 per cent of signals will need replacement during the next 15 years. This means in practice that colour lights installed in the 1960s and 1970s may have to be renewed before some semaphore signals. These employ a much older but still robust technology, which can continue to be used on suitable lines.

The status of the routes is also set to change again as devolution continues, with each route likely to get its own regulatory settlement from CP7.

Outgoing chief executive Mark Carne has outlined some other priorities, which include ‘aligned objectives’ with train operators, bringing track and train closer together. Targets also include reducing train accident risk by 10 per cent and level crossing risk by 13 per cent compared with today’s levels of rail traffic.

Non-traction energy consumption is set to come down by 18 per cent, and absences due to mental health need to come down by 30 per cent, although as mental problems become more acceptable in the railway culture the number of absences caused by them could rise for a while.

Safety continues to be the key priority, and this covers employees driving to and from Network Rail sites as well as those at work on the railway itself. Five employees of Network Rail or contractors have been killed in road traffic accidents since 2014, and a common element was a failure to wear seatbelts.

Mr Carne said: “Passengers’ journeys will be transformed in the next few years as thousands of new trains enter service. By 2021 there will be almost 350,000 more services per year than today – an average of an extra 1,000 services a day, better connecting communities and driving economic growth across the country.

"This plan builds on these improvements and sets out how we will make the railway more reliable and cost efficient and how we accelerate the technological transformation of our railway into the digital age.

“We will continue our strategy to work more closely with train and freight operators, working together in partnership to continue to expand the network for the millions more who will want and need it in the years ahead.

“It is an ambitious, but realistic plan that is not without challenge, but with great people working together in great teams, it can deliver the better railway that a better Britain needs.” 

Mr Carne himself is moving on, and he could depart within the next three to six months, “although I am willing to stay longer if necessary”.

He added that it had been “a huge privilege to do this job”, and that he is “utterly determined to hand over this business in the best possible way”.

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