Interviews

01.05.14

The Anglian alliance

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Apr/May 2014

Abellio Greater Anglia head of corporate affairs Jonathan Denby discusses the TOC’s long-term work with Network Rail, and the new joint performance plan to get performance back on track.

Abellio Greater Anglia entered into an alliance with Network Rail immediately upon taking up its short franchise in February 2012. While not as ‘deep’ as the South
West Trains alliance, the collaboration nevertheless has seen extensive joint working and co-location, with the headquarters of
the TOC and Network Rail’s regional team based together first at East Anglia House in London and, since May 2013, at Stratford.

Abellio Greater Anglia’s head of corporate affairs Jonathan Denby told RTM: “In such a short franchise, you wouldn’t normally plan to move HQs within two and a half years! But we deliberately made that step as a way of embedding that closer working with Network Rail. Right from the start, we looked at a number of ways to work together more effectively.”

Now the two companies have entered into a joint performance action plan to raise performance standards, which slipped over the winter, investing over £1m to improve services (see box out).

That plan was signed when Greater Anglia was just four months away from the end of its franchise, though since then, on 16 April the DfT confirmed that the TOC would stay in place for another 27 months – great news for its 3,000 employs.

Denby explained that one of the big successes of its alliance with Network Rail has been the rescheduling and redesigning of engineering works on the Great Eastern Main Line (GEML) that meant that rather than having 30 or more weekends a year disrupted, there are now only eight, with more work being done in the late evenings and at other times.

Denby said: “From a stakeholder point of view, that’s a complete transformation. However well you handle bus replacement, passengers would always far rather be on a train.

“We managed to achieve that for 2013, and are continuing that for 2014. That proactive approach has worked really well, and has been instrumental in delivering better performance over the course of the franchise.”

Performance anxiety

Performance last spring and early summer was as good as it’s ever been on the route, since the late 1990s at least, with PPM hitting 95.7% in period 2 of 2013-14 (see graph).

But as Denby explained: “It was a very difficult winter, with the severe weather, storms, flooding, landslips, waterlogged equipment and so on. We’ve not had the cold and the snow, but actually the sustained stormy and wet weather has been at least as disruptive, if not more so. That’s been the case across a lot of the country, even though it’s not all been quite as high-profile or dramatic as Dawlish.

“Despite having a difficult period from late October when the storms started, our MAA (moving annual average) [91.7%] is still comfortably above where it was when the franchise started [90.9%].”

More than 200 trees were brought down in the storm on 28 October alone, while carriage availability has also been badly affected by flood damage, fatalities, wheelset damage and the consequences of cyclical heavy maintenance and refurbishment programmes.

Joint plan

Denby said the new performance plan is aimed at getting the MAA back above 92%. “After we meet that initial target, we’ll keep on assessing and pushing from there. From a passenger’s point of view, it’s about consistency and about a good service day-in, day-out. The percentage itself won’t matter to them – but if you are achieving those kinds of levels and above, then what passengers are experiencing on the ground will generally be pretty consistent.”

Abellio Greater Anglia operates 1,900 train services per day, services 167 stations and carries two million passengers a week.

The TOC promised to work with Network Rail to cut the number of speed restrictions and work over-runs on its routes – ambitions that all operators share.

Denby said: “It’s about prioritisation and flexibility in terms of trying to manage extra possessions and doing small pieces of extra work where there’s a clear outcome and benefit.”

He gave the example of the Brantham landslip in February, which disrupted services between Manningtree and Ipswich. Because an existing programme of improvements was already planned for Sunday 23 February on the main line between Chelmsford and Manningtree, the alternative services implemented by the TOC were extended to Ipswich to allow Network Rail engineers to undertake the repair work at Brantham efficiently.

Denby said: “We agreed to an additional block on the Sunday that gave them enough access to get in and shore up the embankment, and therefore both get performance back to normal higher levels, and prevent the far more damaging disruption that could have happened if the embankment had slipped further.

“It’s about a co-ordinated approach, finding a way of doing things that minimises disruption and impact on passengers, and gets you the outcome in terms of better performance.

“Equally, with engineering over-runs, it’s about closer working during blocks, earlier co-ordination, good monitoring of how planning is progressing, keeping an eye on the early warning signs when plans can still be changed, making alterations to the work – everything we can do to help and support Network Rail to give them a better chance of getting the work completed on time. It’s about an active, collaborative, co-operative approach.”

Aligned incentives

This makes it sound as if Network Rail and the TOC are best buddies, strolling arm-in-arm into the sunset – but isn’t the planning of possessions always a battle of competing interests that necessitates compromise?

“There will still be occasions when things go wrong of course, but by trying to be constructive and proactive, you can make
a difference and start to prevent things happening and mitigate the impact of other disruptive events.

“There is much greater alignment of incentives and interests now, and the alliancing is definitely making a positive difference. But everyone would always say there’s more to do. It’s always more difficult on the complex networks with mixed traffic – short-distance, metro, medium-distance, inter-city, and freight – those present bigger challengers when trying to maximise punctuality. But you only have to look at where progress has been made.

“Alliancing has clearly made a difference in East Anglia.”

The key points of the Abellio Greater Anglia plan

• A contract with Direct Rail Services to provide locomotives and carriages to support service provision on its local routes and increase intercity service carriage availability up to the current franchise end date in July.

• Recruiting additional maintenance staff at its Norwich Crown Point depot.

• Review of contingency plans to improve recovery times in the event of disruption and minimise the impact of any short carriage formations which do occur.

• Further modifications to West Anglia route Class 317 trains to improve door reliability.

• Work with Network Rail to secure a reduction in speed restrictions and engineering work over-runs, and to ensure a more robust operation of the freight services using the Ipswich to Felixstowe line to lessen their performance impact on the passenger services operating on this route.

• Additional fleet advisor working with the operations team to provide 24 hours cover to minimise the impact of any in-service faults.

• Development of further targeted investment schemes to tackle the key causes of delays and disruption.

• Work with Network Rail to improve the reliability of the cab-to-signaller communication system on the Class 315 and Class 317 trains used on services between Shenfield and London and on the West Anglia route.

• Extension of remote train monitoring systems which help track train systems and identify faults before they cause delays or more serious problems.

• Review of traincrew deployment and contingency plans to enable the quickest possible recovery from disruptive events.

Key CP5 upgrades affecting Greater Anglia

• Crossrail will transform commuter services between Shenfield and London Liverpool Street.

• Rebuilding of Bow Junction will boost capacity at Liverpool Street.

• The completion of the upgrading of overhead power lines on the GEML between Liverpool Street, Chelmsford and Southend.

• Replacement of ageing tracks around Colchester and platform 6 extension. Phase two of track and points renewal starts in 2015.

• Rebuilding of Ely Junction North to relieve congestion between Norwich and Cambridge on the West Anglia Line.

• A new rail operating centre will open in Romford, controlling the entire railway in the Anglia region.

• More upgrades to the cross-country route from Felixstowe to the West Midlands providing more space for freight, relieving the congested GEML.

(Image: The Photo Xchange)

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

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