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Big message for supply chain on jobs and spending at TransCityRail North

More than 600 rail entrepreneurs and executives gathered in Manchester last night to hear more about how rail investment in the region will transform connectivity, capacity and the northern economy.

Guests at RTM’s TransCityRail North black tie dinner, at the Palace Hotel, heard keynote speeches from HS2 Ltd chief executive Simon Kirby, Network Rail’s Graham Botham, and a surprise addition: Lord Adonis, the former transport secretary who was the original driving force behind HS2 and who is now the head of the independent National Infrastructure Commission.


There was also a panel discussion, chaired by the evening’s host, BBC transport correspondent Richard Westcott, featuring the three speakers plus Transport for Greater Manchester’s Amanda White, Hitachi Rail Europe’s Nick Hughes, Atkins Transportation’s Philip Hoare, and Network Rail’s Alex Hynes.

Graham Botham, Network Rail’s strategy and planning director (north), said: “There is a consensus that improving our railway can be part of transforming the northern economy, to create the Northern Powerhouse and rebalance the economy to complement London and the south east.

“The direction of travel is very clear: devolution is happening across the north.”

Simon Kirby told the audience that HS2’s vision is to be “a catalyst for growth” and for his organisations to do “far more than just build and operate the rail network”.

He added: “Undoubtedly, HS2 is going to leave a major legacy. It is the biggest major project in Europe.”


‘Unsafe companies will simply not be tolerated on HS2’

Kirby explained: “For HS2, safety is our most important value. It is at the heart of everything we do, what we build, what we construct, what we design and one day what we’ll operate. We will work with our partners across the whole supply chain to make sure every person gets home safe, every day.

“All our businesses working on the project must have a strong safety culture. Unsafe companies will simply not be tolerated on HS2.”


Atkins Transportation’s managing director Philip Hoare reiterated a message he sent out to the industry in an interview with RTM earlier this year, telling the TCR audience: “The biggest thing for us is always about having that certainty – a long-term investment plan you can rely on, and that you’ve got some certainty is going to happen no matter what the party politics are.”

Taking infrastructure decisions away from the political cycle will “allow us to really think about long-term investment”, he said.

Addressing the paused and rescoped TransPennine electrification, Northern Rail boss Alex Hynes said that ultimately passengers don’t want new steel structures across railway lines – they want more frequent, faster journeys. He said electrification was the means to that, not an end in itself, and so it was sensible to consider other journey upgrades alongside electrification.


‘Rail pays well’

Hynes was also asked about skills and training in rail, and said his organisation trained people itself. “We don’t expect to go to market and find exactly the skills we want,” he explained.

 The operator has 300 more frontline staff than two years ago, and Hynes noted: “We don’t have to advertise any more; we just put jobs on the website, and get amazing quality candidates because rail pays well, we still provide an amazing pension scheme.”

TfGM’s Amanda White said everyone in the industry has a responsibility to “get out there” and talk to people – particularly younger people – about the amazing opportunities that rail has to offer.


Above: TfGM's Amanda White speaking with Atkins Transportation's Philip Hoare

‘Great teams don’t become bad teams overnight’

Panel chair Richard Westcott put Simon Kirby on the spot with a question from the audience delivered via Twitter, when Furrer + Frey’s Noel Dolphin asked Kirby, as a former Network Rail board member, what advice he’d have for the current board considering the company’s difficult year.


Kirby, after joking that this was why he didn’t like social media, said: “CP4 was successfully delivered. Great teams don’t become bad teams overnight. There are some exceptional people at Network Rail.”

He suggested it was counter-productive to “keep telling people they’re doing a poor job”, because ultimately they’re highly skilled individuals with plenty of career options, and that they would move elsewhere.

He said projects like the Stafford Alliance – in which two of the panel members, Network Rail and Atkins, are in a pure construction alliance with two other companies, Laing O’Rourke and VolkerRail –  was a great example of collaboration and something to learn from for the future.

He suggested that new Network Rail chair Sir Peter Hendy – whose report into rescoping CP5 projects is due imminently –  and its chief executive Mark Carne will be able to “get the organisation back to where it can deliver”.

  • There will be more coverage from the event across the RTM website today. More photos available here.

(Photography by Peter Alvey of Alvey & Towers)



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