The Last Word


Shaw report recommendations need quick implementation

Source: RTM Apr/May 16

Adrian Shaw, senior vice-president of global programme management and rail sector head, Europe, Middle East, India and Africa at Aecom, reflects on the Shaw Report’s recommendations and the need for changes to be adopted quickly.

Nicola Shaw’s much-anticipated report on the future financing and structuring of Network Rail did not recommend breaking up the network as some had predicted. Instead, the report took a measured approach, proposing companies consider innovative approaches to attracting private sector investment in the form of route-based concessions or investment in specific infrastructure projects. 

Although the full-scale break-up of the rail network was ruled out, deeper route devolution was encouraged. However, as Network Rail has already begun the process of devolution, it remains to be seen how deeper route devolution will work in practice. It could mean further changes to the flow of funding, with train operating companies (TOCs) paying for devolved routes and having more input into how railways are run. 

TOCs currently rely on revenue from passenger fares and that has an influence on rolling stock and improved passenger services. Taking a shared approach with infrastructure owners to station oversight development could lead to additional funds being redirected into improving services.  

Another area that requires further guidance is the recommendation for innovation and technological advancement through private sector investment. While this would certainly be a welcome move, the introduction of technology has at times been stifled due to the complexity of integrating it into the UK’s system. More clarity on the ‘how’ and ‘when’ is therefore needed. 

Route for the north 

While more details on some of the report’s recommendations are still required, it is encouraging to see other notable changes. The creation of a route for the north, bringing the west and east coast main lines under more local control where they cross the region, is a positive step that brings the concept of the Northern Powerhouse closer to reality. This commitment to the Northern Powerhouse is of course welcome, but funding will remain a challenge. 

Shaw’s recommendation for more innovative ways of attracting private sector investment certainly needs to be explored. Foreign direct investment should be considered to supplement the public purse. This will help achieve the truly transformational change needed to turn northern cities and towns into a connected economy. But in order for this to happen, local, regional and planning authorities must create the right conditions to attract this inward investment. 

The report’s recommendation to focus on improving freight routes is also welcome and will be key to reducing the current dependence on heavy road haulage. However, the present network simply cannot cope with a significant increase where mixed use with passenger services will be the only outcome, so dedicated freight lines should be considered. These would run parallel to passenger lines, with existing passenger lines only used in very constrained areas. 

Addressing skills 

Perhaps the most significant recommendation in the report is the need to address the skills pipeline. This issue is often talked about but, in my opinion, cannot be overstated. With many of the rail industry’s most experienced engineers approaching retirement, improving the UK’s skillset and encouraging more people into the sector are essential for delivery. This issue is by no means new and remains perhaps the biggest challenge the rail industry faces. 

The government will publish its response to the report later this year. If the report’s recommendations are accepted, changes will need to be adopted relatively quickly in time for the start of the next Control Period in 2019. But with some major rail projects expected to be progressed much sooner than 2019, an industry-wide approach to addressing the skills pipeline cannot come soon enough.

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