Capital delivery is an important feature of delivering a safe and efficient railway. It is essential that best use is made of all the resources available, in order to promote consistency, continual improvement, and to inspire creative and innovative solutions. Rail Engineer recently met with Eoin O’Neill, capital delivery director Network Rail North West & Central region, to discuss how he and his team are working to enable Network Rail and their suppliers to work more collaboratively together, and with a greater ‘systems’ approach. This is to enable everyone involved in projects to better manage their resources and supply chains, and to help deliver the right project solutions and SPEED (Swift, Pragmatic and Efficient Enhancement Delivery) to halve the time and slash the cost of railway investment.
Eoin explained that, historically, the cost and time to deliver projects was not challenged as effectively as it could be, and that specified outcomes were not adequately scrutinised. The Covid-19 global pandemic exacerbated these inherent issues and there is now a need for reforms across parts of the rail investment process – especially as the challenges of Control Period 7 (CP7) are fast approaching.
The region is changing from being a collection of business functions, that have largely operated and measured performance in isolation of each other, to being a more integrated ‘one team’ organisation. One that is better aligned and makes best use of its knowledge and expertise to achieve the best investment outcomes. Eoin accepts this will take time to mature and he acknowledges the region is in the foothills of its journey to improve, which is why the region is taking the initial steps to be a more safe, effective, and efficient organisation as the railway approaches CP7 and beyond.
We discussed the need for a greater ‘systems approach’ to deliver a safe and efficient railway, on time and more cost effectively. The railway is a ‘system of systems’ and needs all the component parts and its people to work together and to support one another. No one or any particular asset is more important than another. A railway infrastructure manager’s role is simple, and is to provide a safe and efficient train path from A to B. But to do this requires earthworks, structures, track, signalling, power, communications, buildings, and stations; not forgetting managing the interfaces with neighbours, train operators and other parties, and the people who operate the railway.
The railway is more ‘connected’ than ever so, a system approach is vital, and people and organisations can no longer operate in their ’functional silos’. Otherwise, it simply won’t work. Train operators and the supply chain also need to be part of the railway team, and not thought of as ‘contractors’. The supply chain also needs visibility and a steady stream of work. ‘Boom or bust’ helps no one, and it just increases costs and project delivery risks.
The 2021 Williams-Shapps report said: “Wider industry transformation is already moving towards an environment predicated on ‘whole system thinking’. It recognises that existing adversarial relationships are the key reasons for high cost, low value, and inefficiency in the sector”.
Eoin’s spend of £1 billion – £1.5 billion, looking forwards to year 5/CP6 and average through CP7, sounds a lot, but the NW&C region is large, and is nearly a quarter of the whole GB network. The region is the ‘backbone of Britain’ and the economic spine that links major cities. It runs from London Euston and Marylebone in the south, through the Chiltern and West Midlands regions, the Northwest of England and Cumbria before joining with Scotland at Gretna. The West Coast Mainline is the busiest mixed-use railway in Europe, serving London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, and on to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The region has 8,000 employees, delivers 246.5 million annual rail passenger journeys, and moves 700,000 tonnes of freight every week. Even in the current challenging times and following Covid-19, over the next few years passenger growth is expected to rise by 12% and freight by 18%. Major railway upgrade schemes in the region to cater for this growth include East West Rail, Midlands Rail Hub, Euston station redevelopment, Crewe Programme, and interfacing with HS2 as well as renewing the existing infrastructure. The asset base requiring interventions includes 571 stations, including the four managed stations (Birmingham New Street, Manchester Piccadilly, Liverpool Lime Street, and London Euston), 712 level crossings, 7,100 bridges, 150 signal boxes, large sections of AC and DC traction systems, many delicate earthworks, some of the longest tunnels in the country, and the underground Mersey Rail system of Liverpool.
System intelligent requirements
For the huge capital programme for the region, Eoin and his team need to work closely and openly with the route and train operators to get the right access and provide affordable value-based requirements, which Network Rail’s new Minimum Viable Product (MVP) value management process drives at. They need the asset managers and sponsors to deliver timely and fit for purpose ‘intelligent’ remits. These should not be too detailed and prescriptive, and they need to be output performance based. Just specifying in detail what has been supplied before stifles innovation and creativity. The remits and specifications need to be performance based and to ensure that suppliers new to the railway understand the outputs required and limitations.
So, for example electrical and electronic systems need to work in the harsh electromagnetic environment of the railway by limiting the unintentional generation, propagation, and reception of electromagnetic energy, which may cause unwanted effects such as electromagnetic interference or even physical damage to operational equipment. Suppliers new to rail may not appreciate the requirements, but they may well have novel ways of achieving them.
If a footbridge is requiring renewal, then the asset managers remit should not be a detailed design for a new bridge. A performance requirement to allow a number of people (including those with limited mobility) to move from one location to another may allow for another public right of way and an existing underbridge to be used. Even if this is not possible, a performance-based remit will allow for new ways of construction and delivery.
The capital delivery team and its suppliers also need to step up and perform more collaboratively in a system engineering approach and not in a ‘silo’ way, simply ‘passing the baton’ problem on to someone else. Maintainers and operators know their areas in great detail and can help projects to deliver better. They should not be brought in right at the end of the project, but need to be involved from the beginning. Everyone in rail is on the same team, including suppliers, and the real competition is road and air transport.
To illustrate an example of a system engineering approach, Eoin described a requirement to introduce new rolling stock which needed more electric traction power. The traditional engineering solution would be to immediately start building more infrastructure and a new power supply system to operate the new trains. But a systems approach would be to see first if it would be possible to operate the railway differently with a revised timetable and train acceleration curves, which may not need more power. Even if this was not possible it may reduce the power requirement and the associated cost.
In such projects it needs everyone, including operators and suppliers, in the same room very early on in a project to identify collaboratively and collectively what needs to be done to deliver the required system outcome, and at the lowest and most affordable cost.
Smarter work allocation
The internal Network Rail Works Delivery group is now an integral valued part of Capital Delivery, and there will be a ‘smarter’ defined work allocation process to ensures projects are allocated to the optimal framework of delivery, based on values and complexity. This will also allow a tailored work categorisation approach that recognises the differences between project and work types to remove a ‘one size fits all’ approach. This will also provide a more appropriate contracting strategy, pricing mechanism, incentivisation, and assurance activity to be used by project type. The more tailored work categorisation will also allow for a more diverse supply base with clear entry channels for Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs).
The direct relationships will allow for development opportunities for SMEs resulting in improved longer term market conditions and a coherent approach and process across Capital Delivery, and supplier management and development will be constant across all parts of Capital Delivery.
Capital Delivery System
The Capital Delivery System (CDS) covers everyone in the capital delivery process who can influence capital investment outcomes. To get the very best outcomes requires everyone to be effective, aligned, and working together effectively.
This is analogous to a relay race, with the winning team being the one where each individual runner’s performance is effective, as is the quality of the handover from one runner to another. If one runner underperforms or the handover is ineffective, then the team’s overall performance suffers. Another metaphor is a cog system, which describes the same spirit in so far as everyone being effective, aligned and working together, whilst additionally recognising that projects are complex with various parts (cogs) all needing to work at the same time.
CDS will promote consistency, economies of scale, and greater agility of resource deployment. It will address overlaps with the supply chain and Network Rail, which is often wasteful and degrades ownership of issues, learning and improvement. The new approach will remove duplication to deliver projects more efficiently. Enhancing staff capability, and rationalising and improving the assurance framework will also be targeted to support driving greater efficiency.
Very large bespoke projects
There are many difficult and challenging projects ahead in the region and they include some very large bespoke projects:
Birmingham New Street resignalling was finally completed over Christmas after 17 years and many stages, due to the fact that the West Midlands area is so large and complicated. Crewe is another huge signalling area and renewing Crewe and Birmingham at the same time has not been possible due to the huge resource, cost, and access required. With Birmingham now complete the focus is now on Crewe.
Crewe’s last major resignalling took place in 1985 with the creation of the Crewe Signalling Control Centre (SCC). While this was an extensive resignalling it did not include the freight Independent Lines, nor Crewe’s other fringes and only covered the station area and junctions. Basford Hall on the approach to Crewe from the south dates from 1897, and other signal boxes from 1901 and the signalling last renewed in 1936, with some modernisation with electrification in the 1960s and various life extension works. The connection with HS2 is another requirement which all adds to the complication of the project ahead.
Other major projects in the pipeline are the West Coast Main Line North (WCML North) upgrade and the line between Bolton and Wigan electrified. This will see almost 13 single track miles of new electrification and lengthen the platforms between Lostock and Wigan. The project will provide 427 new overhead line equipment stanchions, and modifications to 17 bridges and two-level crossings. Platforms will also be extended at Hindley, Westhoughton and Ince stations to cater for six-carriage trains in the future. Eoin and his team are committed to identifying the most efficient way of delivering the electrification and learning from the various electrification projects which have taken place over the last few years.
The Midlands Rail Hub programme aims to improve rail connectivity and boost economic growth across the Midlands and towards the South-West through a series of projects across the region. The programme proposes to increase capacity at Birmingham Moor Street station, which will be adjacent to the new HS2 station at Curzon Street, and to reduce overall congestion on key rail corridors radiating from Central Birmingham. A new line is planned to connect the Camp Hill line to the Chiltern main line which will allow more trains to use Birmingham Moor Street station. The project is subject to ongoing work to maximise value for money and affordability.
It is clear that Eoin is committed to working with colleagues and partners across the system, both internally and externally to find new ways of working in line with the company’s approach to project delivery, focusing on the right solutions at the right cost, delivering faster and more efficiently, and providing value for money for taxpayers. The system engineering approach, with the one team cooperation, collaborative behaviours and commercial focus will encourage more effective contracting and use of appropriate internal resources. It will also help to improve how Network Rail develops designs, and plans projects in the region to deliver better outcomes for both passengers, freight, and funders.
Image credit: Network Rail