Rail Industry Focus

29.10.19

What's in the pipeline?

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 2019

 

After sustained railway industry campaigning, the Government has now published a list of rail enhancements. Now the projects need to be delivered says Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association.

Rail enhancements are an essential part of the work of the railway industry. They involve significant projects to improve UK railways; upgrading stations, expanding the rail network, and installing overhead line electrification equipment. Without them, the future rail system simply would not be able to cope with the growing demand we are seeing in rail services.

So when the Government announced a new process by which it would assess rail enhancements last year, significant concerns were raised when there were no new projects listed in the process. The Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline (RNEP) was meant to ensure enhancement projects were well developed before they came to market. However, it soon became clear that without a list of projects, the RNEP lacked the visibility rail businesses needed. For CP6, this meant that the only visibility of enhancements projects would be those already approved as part of the overhanging projects from CP5.

Lack of progress on enhancements visibility

In the summer of 2018, the RIA brought these concerns to the Transport Select Committee. Recommendation Nine of the Committee’s Rail Infrastructure Investment Report was very clear: that the Government should “commit to full transparency.” The Government responded by fully accepting the recommendation.

In March 2019, RIA wrote to the rail minister at the time, Andrew Jones MP, calling for the DfT to publish the full list. And in July, Network Rail’s head of client portfolio Yaelle Ridley said publicly she wanted to share the list of projects, but was prevented from doing so by Chris Grayling. She said she was even struggling to share it within her own organisation, “which makes it very difficult for planning.”

The RIA ‘SURE’ campaign – ‘Show Us the Rail Enhancements’

As the summer passed, RIA announced our SURE - the ‘Show Us the Rail Enhancements’ – campaign, calling for the DfT to publish the list. As part of the campaign, we met with parliamentarians, ramped up the PR and conducted a progress review. We also launched an Enhancements Clock, showing the amount of time since the Government committed to publishing the RNEP list of projects – this stood at one year and 26 days when the new ministerial team at the DfT made the announcement and at last released the list on 16 October.

The RNEP contains 58 projects which RIA will be examining, including digital signaling, station redevelopment, and capacity improvements. Compared to where things stood a year ago, this new list is a clear advance for the rail supply sector, and will allow the industry to plan and invest.

So what’s next?

The publication of the list is a positive development, but it must be one part of a Government commitment to greater visibility. In particular, the RNEP does not include Market-Led Enhancement Proposals – schemes that require private sector investment. It is vital the RNEP is published at least annually, so visibility continues in the coming years – and we understand   Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has committed to this.

There are still concerns that there are no construction-ready schemes in the RNEP, which means that, other than design projects, there could be a major enhancements hiatus in CP6. This could result in the specialist skills sets for multi-disciplinary upgrade schemes being lost to other sectors or overseas.

It is expensive to bring them back once they have gone, which is bad for the Government and ultimately the taxpayer. So whilst it is good news that there has at last been some progress on enhancements visibility, after concerted campaigning by the railway industry, RIA will continue to monitor these developments on behalf of its members in the months ahead.

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