Collaboration has to be at the heart of UK rail reform, contractors urge

The current siloed railway structure needs to pave way for collaboration across all parties in the rail industry if the UK is going to be successful in its aim to bring about a network fit for the 21st century, civil engineering contractors have said.

The warning from the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) comes in response to response to the Williams Rail Review, which was established late last year to ascertain the best way to organise the UK’s rail network and operations.

Established by the transport secretary in the wake of the disastrous May timetable changes, the review is being led by independent chair Keith Williams, the former chairman and chief executive of British Airways.

In what will be the biggest review since privatisation, Williams has vowed to “leave no stone unturned” in ensuring passengers benefit from a world class railway while attempting to uncover reasons for failings and look at the structure of the whole rail industry. 

A white paper will eventually be published with reforms expected to be put in place from 2020. Williams is being supported by an external panel which will consider all parts of the rail industry - from the current franchising system and industry structures to accountability.

Speaking in September, Williams said: “It’s clear that Britain’s railway has seen unprecedented growth and is carrying more passengers than it did a century ago on a network a fraction of the size. But it also clear it faces significant challenges. I am looking forward to working with the industry and passengers to tackle these challenges.”

CECA’s response follows the review’s call for evidence in which it wanted to hear from passengers, the industry, leading thinkers and investors.

Using examples of railway projects carried out on the mainline, CECA says the most successful of these are generally supported by a collaborative relationship between operators, network and contractors. These include Waterloo Station redevelopment, Nottingham Station remodelling and Derby Station remodelling.

CECA’s rail director Bill Free said: “The current siloed railway structure between track, train and project delivery has driven inefficient delivery of railway projects – leading to higher costs for rail users and taxpayers.  Some projects break this mould and are delivered successfully.  We commend the recent Rail Sector Deal and plans to roll out Digital Railway on the East Coast Mainline – which point the way to a true collaboration across all parties in the railway. Such collaborative working must also go hand in hand with Early Contractor Involvement in order to prioritise the interests of passengers and taxpayers and deliver our much-needed world-class railway.”

Data released by Network Rail under the Freedom of Information Act revealed 54,586 trains were cancelled between 1 April and 21 July 2018, and 45,405 were part-cancelled thanks to the major timetable overhaul - meaning just under 900 trains a day were hit by cancellations.

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