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Network Rail creates ‘virtual route’ to implement Shaw recommendations

A new ‘virtual route’ for freight and national passenger operators will be introduced as Network Rail’s ninth operational route.

The route is designed to help Network Rail implement the Shaw report’s recommendations that it become more customer-focused and route-led.

The new virtual route team will take on responsibility for CrossCountry, which operates seven of the eight current routes, allowing it to enhance support for customers who operate nationally.

Phil Hufton, Network Rail’s managing director for England and Wales, said: “Rail freight is absolutely vital to Britain’s economy and the changes we are putting in place will mean we are better able to represent the interests of our freight and national passenger service customers. 

“Freight operators’ satisfaction with the service they receive from Network Rail has improved significantly – but it’s important we continue to challenge ourselves to do more for all our customers, ensuring that their needs are balanced with those of train operating companies who wholly or predominantly operate on a single route.”

The new structure is also designed to allow Network Rail to dedicate increased resources to on and off-track safety, while regional business development managers will identify opportunities for freight growth, including through third-party funded schemes.

Network Rail will also put forward proposals for enhanced governance for CrossCountry and other national operators following a review involving train operating companies, the freight sector and industry bodies.

The new route will be led by Paul McMahon, who will leave his current post as route managing director for Wales in August to become managing director of freight and national passenger operators.

He will be replaced by Andy Thomas, currently managing director of Hyderabad Mass Transit in India for the Keolis Group.

RTM interviewed McMahon about what Network Rail can do to support freight last year.

A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group said: "Devolving more power to each of Network Rail's routes enables greater focus on what train operators need to deliver - better services for passengers and freight users.

"But it is important that the railway is operated as a seamless network without artificial route boundaries. The creation of a virtual freight and passenger "route" is fundamental to supporting those operators which run across multiple routes and therefore to connecting Britain's towns and cities and supporting jobs and housing."

In the current edition of RTM, Philippa Edmunds, Freight on Rail manager at Campaign for Better Transport, argues that the virtual freight route must be given equal importance to existing routes.

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