Interviews

15.11.16

Investing in the future of Scottish Rail

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 16

Phil Verster, managing director of ScotRail Alliance, speaks to RTM’s Luana Salles about the recently-published ‘Investing in the Future’ report expected to inform the Scottish government’s upcoming rail strategy.

In late September, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), in partnership with industry representatives including Network Rail and ScotRail, published the ‘Investing in the Future’ (IITF) report, a long-term strategy document looking 25 years into the future of Scotland’s railways. 

The document closely followed July’s Scotland Route Study developed by Network Rail and other key players, which mooted a number of potential choices the Scottish government could pick from to inform its rail funding decisions between 2019 and 2029. These included major remodelling projects, four-tracking the East Coast Main Line between Drem and Prestonpans, extending platforms and approaches at Edinburgh Waverley, and electrifying even more lines. 

In a similar vein, the IITF was designed to kick-start widespread discussions about the future of the Scottish railways in an effort to shape the government’s High Level Output Specification in 2017. It was also intended to set the scene for the RDG’s Initial Industry Advice expected early next year. 

Whole-industry view 

Speaking to RTM, Phil Verster, the managing director of ScotRail Alliance, emphasised that the document provided a “whole-industry view” of what the sector needs to do over the next 25 years, during which growth is expected to skyrocket by over 100% in Scotland’s three big conurbations (Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen). In Aberdeen specifically, growth is expected to reach 226% by 2043. 

“That means we’re going to see commuters at a level three times as high as it is today,” Verster explained. “What is evident is that rail is part of the economic and social cohesion of our modern Scotland economy. And rail is also a key part in the government’s toolkit of things they can do with the right funding to provide economic growth, and provide the substance for the country’s success.” 

The major improvements needed, according to the report, are a combination of extra trains – supported by a long-term rolling stock strategy – as well as new infrastructure, new timetables and innovations by franchises. “It’s unavoidable that we will do more infrastructure work and timetable work around Aberdeen in particular,” argued Verster. “A huge, huge amount of work will also be done on platforms and infrastructure in the Glasgow area.” 

Overcoming infrastructure challenges 

Another inherent part of the strategy concerning infrastructure is the need to strike a balance between new and existing assets, with the ultimate goal of “gradually migrating the system from where it is now to where it needs to be in 25 years’ time”. 

“It’s never one or the other; it’s always a question of both,” said Verster. “And when you look at the IITF plan and the Scotland Route Study, it’s evident that we utilise existing structure and enhance existing infrastructure as much as possible, because that’s where you get most of your benefit from.” 

And while Verster unabashedly praised the industry’s ability to interface with national and regional partners, he said one of the major issues is to deal with the remaining challenge of delivering large infrastructure enhancements. “This remains one of our biggest priorities and, while we’ve had difficulties and challenges with EGIP [Edinburgh-Glasgow Improvement Programme], we have recovered those and are now in a good place to deliver these programmes significantly better.” 

Asked how the industry managed to overcome these challenges, Verster said it was fairly simple: by sitting people down around the table, looking honestly and in detail at what had gone wrong, and then learning from it. 

“We put fixes in place which ranged from a better programme management office to a better level of transparency around reporting, a better system of governance on the programme itself, a better set of client relationships with Transport Scotland,” he continued. “These all sound very straightforward and simplistic – and to be honest, they are. We put these in place and it has made a huge difference in our ability to deliver enhancement projects.” 

Supply chain vulnerabilities 

Other challenges, albeit smaller, also remain with regards to the supply chain. The IITF report said project timetables needed to be driven by the outputs required and what the supply chain can realistically deliver, rather than focus on funding. But it also stressed that the effectiveness of a supply chain “can be undermined where any one link in the chain breaks down”. 

Expanding on this, Verster said that, for him, the headline issue is that the supply chain “needs to be party to the process of developing solutions on large enhancement programmes earlier” – something he argued his infrastructure projects team are currently doing “more and more of” as the industry heads into CP6. 

“The sooner in the GRIP stage process you involve the supply chain, the better,” he added. “Our supply chain is very good, but they’re only as good as they can see what is required from them, and seeing it early. Planning for it early is a really big success factor on large programmes. Getting suppliers involved too late just doesn’t help the project delivery at all.” 

As well as suppliers, the need for funders to have more clarity was also underlined in the report, echoing similar remarks from the Shaw Review. This is particularly important at a time where “both capital and current expenditure are likely to be highly constrained”, requiring funders to “prioritise and phase the delivery of strategic outcomes”, the IITF said. 

According to the document, this will include key investment trade-offs, such as prioritising end-to-end journey times on key corridors vs. providing intermediate connectivity, or between reaping the benefits of HS2 vs. ensuring sufficient capacity to accommodate freight demand. 

Looking further into the future 

But despite the need for realism around investment, the sheer span of the strategy document, both in terms of its length and how far it stretches into the future, is telling of the mammoth scale of rail enhancements the government is expected to pour into Scotland over the coming years. 

“We’ve obviously carefully considered the Hendy and the Bowe reviews, and the role of planning should be central, and should be appropriate to the scale of the investment. So the bigger the investment, the more extensive the planning and preparation should be,” Verster said. 

“We’re very clearly in that space where the important objective for us is to get developments and planning started on the projects that will follow in the next control period, and the control period thereafter. What we want to avoid is the stop-start where [we] do all of our development at the beginning of the control period to implement in the last two years of the control period. Everything’s too bunched and you don’t get everything done. 

“You have to spread it out, and you have to get this pipeline going of projects that are shovel-ready by the time the next control period starts.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION

To access the IITF report, visit:

W: www.tinyurl.com/RTM-IITF

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

 

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