New Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne: the first 100 days

Network Rail’s new chief executive Mark Carne takes over his official duties next week, slightly earlier than originally planned in order to lead the company as it gets to grips with the recent impact of flood and storms on the network.

The former oil and gas executive has actually been with Network Rail since 6 January to take over from David Higgins who is the new head of the High Speed 2 project. In this time Carne has been immersing himself (rather literally in light of recent events) in the intricacies of the rail business but was originally not expected to assume day to day control until March.

However, the rail operator’s chairman Richard Parry-Jones said last week: “With so much going on at the moment and the atrocious weather affecting our customers and testing the resilience of both our people and the network, Mark, David (Higgins – outgoing ceo) and I have discussed the matter and thought it best Mark get his feet under the table sooner rather than later.”

He added: “We have clear priorities; safely restoring services to normal, making our network more resilient and wisely spending and investing our £38bn funding packing (for CP5) to make Britain’s railways better. We need to get going on this next chapter of our journey.”

Few observers of the rail industry would doubt that, even without the impact of the weather, there is clearly a great deal for Carne to do on arrival at Network Rail as it draws work under Control Period 4 to a close and then gears up for the new challenges set by the regulator for Control Period 5 from April.

Infrastructure Intelligence asked some of its audience of railway experts what Mark Carne’s priorities should be for the first 100 days after he gets his feet properly under the table on Monday, and a bit beyond. Here are their top ten suggestions.

1. Understand that when you are an arms-length Government company managing crises are more important than managing the business. The latest [crisis] shows up the lack of resilience of the network’s underlying infrastructure caused by under investment. So start to convince government of the need to prioritise investment in rail that will produce the best result overall for performance and passengers (ie maintenance and renewals) rather than making a list of exciting new projects.

2. Carry out a personal review the priorities of the next CP5 spending period and satisfy yourself that they are the right ones. A resilient and reliable railway is, very evidently, given the storms and flooding damage, as important as increasing capacity. The loss of the main line to Cornwall at Dawlish for months has moved repair and a possible new inland route to the top the agenda for instance; does CP5 overall have enough focus on maintenance and repair? If Carne is not satisfied, our rail experts say he has a window of opportunity as the new man in charge, to go to the Office of the Rail Regulator and seek a review.

3. Don’t come in as an oil baron. Oil is intrinsically a profit making industry. The culture of rail is about public service.

4. Put in place an investigation as to why some Network Rail projects are extremely efficient and others are absolutely awful. That would go some way to improving value for money and achieving the savings the regulator is demanding.

5. Get out on as many night shifts and engineering hours operations as possible as just keep asking everyone “why do we do it that way?” and “how could you do it better?” Then start empowering people to change the simple obvious things that will deliver huge improvement in efficiency.

6. Sit down with the Train Operating Companies and really understand what they are trying to achieve for their passengers. Then work with them either formally or informally to ensure that the customer’s experience is never anything but top of mind.

7. Establish on what basis your technical people are telling you that the infrastructure is resilient. There’s a huge overhead line electrification programme about to head off to Bristol and the south west which has had some spectacular winds. Are the designs appropriate for withstanding higher wind speeds?  And on what basis are the engineers saying maintenance regimes are fit for purpose?  Do they need to be adapted to changing weather patterns, ground movement and increased water ingress for instance given that the network is beset by landslips that are closing routes until next month?

8. Decide how Network Rail will interface with HS2 and what will the Network Rail infrastructure have to look like given that the HS2 business case relies on more freight and more stopping services on the older main lines? How will you maximise the benefits of that for the travelling public and Network Rail’s business?

9. Accept that the railways operate as route based businesses or regionally; really, really just go with the flow on that.

10. Take note of this quote from Machiavelli: “It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than the creation of a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institutions and merely lukewarm defenders in those who should gain by the new ones.”


What do you think? Post your comments below:

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11. Review procurement and contract strategies, Challenge why Network Rail is not habitually using NEC contracts generally recommended by UK government and recognised as best practice on contract/project management and to foster the collaboration required to make significant improvements to delivery. Richard Patterson, NEC and Pricurement Specialist, Mott MacDonald
Our existing railway network maintenance costs some 5 times greater than 3 lane motorways and track renewals being needed regularly to upgrade the structural condition. Compared with motorways which are long life pavements which need no structural interventions it's not surprising that existing ballasted tracks are not sustainable and resilient to increased traffic
Your innovation scheme is completely broken. Suggestions to the web site got an automated response about 4 months later. In other words, the system was down and not responding for months before anyone noticed. I have proposals for serious improvements and no-one wants to know. Nearly a year on there is no further response.
14. Whilst you take a leap of faith and sign your Tier 1 contractors up to five year frameworks, ask how many of them are reciprocating and doing the same with the Tier 2's and 3's. How do you expect to get innovative ideas and more cost efficient ideas without engaging those who do the work?
Well it would make sense that a company that size should actually have a strategic, tactical and operational business continuity capability. Hopefully as he comes into place he may be able to sort that out. Looking at the structure of the organisation and the recent posted strategic plan for the next five years, organisational resilience or business continuity are not mentioned. I hope that with his background he actually looks around the company and selects individuals, regardless of position and based on background and capability, to be placed in the right roles. Talent management is something that Network Rail is very poor at, it is based more on technical capability. Unfortunately, resilience is based on non-technical capability and as we have witnessed, the company has not done that well for long term planning and assessment.
If the need that drives HS2 is now capacity rather than speed why aren't we designing for double deck trains with the obvious benefits they would bring?
Your most senior engineers are deeply committed but they need easy access to modest amounts of money to sponsor simple exploratory work. THere is far to much emphasis on control and too little on empowerment.