Andrew Haines became Network Rail’s new chief executive in August. In this month’s magazine, he gives his thoughts on where the railway needs to go, as expressed to the All-Party Parliamentary Rail Group. This follows his questioning by the Commons Transport Committee in September about his key priorities.
No doubt, his views reflect his experience as managing director of South West trains, when he felt that Network Rail was too centralised and so was detached from its passengers and freight users. Hence his view that passengers “have to be at the front of the agenda for every one of our employees” and that more devolution is needed.
At the Transport Committee hearing, its chair, Lillian Greenwood, expressed the view that previously there had a lack of candour from Network Rail. This was not the case on this occasion when Haines, for example, expressed his candid view that the centralisation of timetable planning a decade ago was a short-sighted decision, resulting in a loss of skills. He also felt that the current timetable process, developed in the 1990s when passenger numbers were declining, was never designed to introduce large-scale changes.
He also expressed a more nuanced approach to electrification. Whilst Mark Carne is on record as saying: “We’ve discovered the cost of electrification is very expensive” and that “in the meantime the trains are getting better”, Haines made it clear to the committee that he is not anti-electrification. However, he feels that the right solution depends on the required outcome. He considered that electrification does very little if the requirement is increased capacity with no reduction in journey time. However, if better whole life costs, journey time improvements and a reduced carbon footprint are required, he advised that “you might well choose electrification”.
Haines was also quizzed about the digital signalling, which he feels had been significantly oversold. Nevertheless, with two-thirds of the signalling system requiring renewal in the next fifteen years, it is important to avoid its replacement by conventional equipment. This needs a business case based on digital signalling’s maintenance savings and capacity improvements. Acknowledging concerns about the continuing increase in signalling replacement costs, he stressed the importance of early contractor involvement to keep costs down.
Although both his Westminster appearances indicate some changes of approach, Haines has much in common with his predecessor. These include his conviction that the focus on safety must not change and the importance of attracting private finance. He also feels that Network Rail has made huge progress in some areas, with many successful projects delivered.
As Mark Phillips describes, two such projects are the flood resilience schemes at Cowley Bridge junction and Axminster. These deliver significant benefits to passengers, who are unlikely to be aware of this work. In contrast, users of Derby and Liverpool Lime Street stations were well aware of the work at these stations. Our reports from Peter Stanton and Paul Darlington show that the planning and execution of the blockade work (or partial closure as Network Rail prefers to term it), which kept these stations open during the major work at and around them, was seriously impressive.
The work to modify Waterloo’s former international terminal for domestic services is also quite complex. As Mark Phillips explains, this includes infill roofing, orchestra pit refurbishment and a new link bridge.
Looking back fifty years, Graeme Bickerdike considers the design of the ‘new’ Euston station which opened in 1968 and now carries more than twice the passengers that it was designed for. Looking to the future, Clive Kessell, reports on the case for Crossrail 2 in an article that also highlights the frustration and unanswered questions about the delay in opening the Elizabeth line.
In his feature, David Bickell reiterates the point Andrew Haines made about the need for digital signalling to replace life expired signalling equipment, in this case that installed in the 1970s at the southern end of the East Coast main line. With the introduction of digital signalling, cyber security becomes increasingly important. This month, we also explain how cyber-attacks can be prevented.
The digital technologies used in self-driving cars have now been applied to trams, as Keith Fender explains in his report from Potsdam, near Berlin, on what is claimed to be the world’s first self-driving tram. Closer to home, Grahame Taylor reports on progress with the West Midlands Metro extension, which is to have battery operated trams and a link to HS2. He also highlights the challenges of installing its permanent way in Birmingham’s congested city centre.
With over 300,000 employees, the rail industry’s annual contribution to the UK economy is £36 billion. Much of its supply chain is represented by the Railway Industry Association, which recently had its annual conference. As we describe, this featured high-profile speakers and highlighted concerns about the ‘boom and bust’ with project funding, lack of funding for rolling stock innovations, the need for a satisfactory Brexit and co-ordination between prestige projects such as HS2, Crossrail 2 and the digital railway. There was also a consensus that the travel experience of rail passengers needs to be improved.
In this, and other respects, Network Rail’s new CEO seems to be in tune with the voice of the industry.