Rail Industry Focus


A whole railway approach

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Dec/Jan 2014

Speaking to delegates at the Future of Rail conference, South West Trains chief executive Tim Shovellerdiscussed the 18-month-old ‘deep alliance’ with Network Rail.

New working arrangements are gaining popularity as the industry seeks to address persistent challenges. Greater collaboration, clearer strategy and cost-sharing are just some of the reasons for the different types of alliance on offer – but how are they working in practice?

18 months in, South West Trains (SWT) chief executive Tim Shoveller said the ‘track and train’ alliance with Network Rail has been facilitating better, faster decisions. Addressing delegates, he described a “whole railway perspective”, and how the close working is driving benefits for passengers and the industry.

“We are focusing very much on a whole-railway perspective. The context is a growing railway, it’s a positive thing. But we need to be better,” he said.

One team

Shoveller said closer working has led to a host of improvements for both Network Rail and SWT. “I just want a really good railway, and that takes all our people, the unions, our frontline teams and government departments.

“We’ve done a whole load of things to change the organisation; where there were two teams, we’ve now got one team. A whole series of practical issues have been very evident that we really need to think about in the long-term construction of the railway.”

Wise decisions?

These issues included “compromises” in the rail timetable – Shoveller said that “actually, some of it doesn’t work very well by plan”.

An example is Waterloo station, where more services are planned than SWT can physically run on time. But the consequences of changing this are significant, and mean the operator faces “some really hard choices” to move away from this approach.

A lack of good information and knowledge has sometimes led to bad decisions, he added. “Many of our [the industry’s] assumptions were wrong. Occasionally some of them are significantly wrong and decisions were being based, [and] relationships were being made, on unreliable data and unreliable facts.”

Shoveller highlighted underinvestment in “an incredibly busy railway”, and asked: “Have our investment choices always been wise? We understand that in many cases decisions we made were based on facts which turned out not to be facts.”

A wider perspective

The alliance has allowed SWT to look across the “whole spectrum” of opportunities and costs on the railway, and identify areas to grow revenue.

Statistics show the alliance has had a positive impact on disruption, with the number of large disruptive events down by 10%. Now when things do go wrong, recovery is faster. “We’ve got to understand it’s about how we respond,” Shoveller said.

Other important areas benefiting include a focus on passengers, capacity and staff engagement: “That is the key to unlocking many of these issues. Especially efficiency; people’s desire to do their job really well as opposed to just enough will make a huge difference to our costs...Some were concerned that in an alliance the passengers would get forgotten and the structure would become the dominant thing. Not at all.”

Not staying still

The alliance has also helped SWT develop a new approach to risk.

Shoveller said: “Our railways historically operate on the basis that if something is not safe, we stop the train. Actually, with a railway as busy as ours, stopping the trains also creates risk. We have to keep trains moving safely – stopping trains is not the answer anymore.

“So you have to re-examine our roles and our proposals. We absolutely have to, from a capacity perspective, challenge some of the compromises we have made in the past.”

This includes examples where cost pressures or a lack of infrastructure have meant different solutions that must now be reviewed on a quality and efficiency basis.

Shoveller said: “We know we can do better and we’re trying to achieve that.”

Flexible solutions

The joint working has also balanced investment in a new way, with delay and consequences from one organisation being borne by the other to improve overall frontline delivery, performance and quality.

Clearer, streamlined leadership has allowed a single strategy. This has led to more flexibility around management decisions, such as allowing small possession over-runs if the overall benefits outweigh the disruption.

Shoveller said: “We understand that capacity, collaboration and competition are the keys to allowing us to run the rail better and to be more efficient.”

As good as your worst asset

Two key alliance programmes for CP5, the Waterloo Programme and the Windsor Line Programme, will be delivered two years faster than SWT would have been able to without the alliance, he said.

The Windsor Line programme will now include track and power upgrades, platform lengthening and new rolling stock, as well as the original re-signalling.

“There’s no point changing one aspect if you don’t change the others, because we’re only as good as the worst, oldest asset. The business benefit comes when you can bring the whole lot together.”

Shoveller said he would “love” to extend the alliance for another five years.

(Image: Alvey & Towers)


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