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Carne opens NR doors to private funding with new review

Network Rail will set up an independent review designed to open it up to competition in delivering projects, the infrastructure owner’s CEO Mark Carne has announced.

In a speech to the annual The Future of Rail conference, Carne highlighted that Network Rail is increasingly turning into a “public sector body that acts like a private business”, but lamented the barriers that prevented it from working with innovative new suppliers.

Carne explained that he therefore wants Network Rail to drive competition to encourage third party funding of projects and new models of delivering them.

“We have to open our doors, cut through the red tape and look for new ways of delivering a better railway for a better Britain,” he said. “I’m announcing that Network Rail is setting up an independently chaired review into all barriers that prevent alternative project delivery models.

“This in turn will further encourage our own teams to innovate and push aside the barriers holding them back.”

Network Rail’s recent delivery record has been impressive, meeting 93% of its regulated project milestones this year, compared with around 65% in 2014. The company has also reduced engineering overruns by 65% since last year, despite the major renewals and enhancements currently underway as part of its Railway Upgrade Plan.

At the conference, Carne also praised the £450m digital rail signalling technology trial announced by chancellor Phillip Hammond in last week’s Autumn Statement, arguing that it was “exciting” that the government recognised the importance of Digital Railway.

“Now is the time for the whole industry to step up and grab hold of this opportunity. We have made good progress in having an industry-wide approach to Digital Railway, with the launch of an Early Contractor Involvement report next week,” said Carne, emphasising that this would need to change the way the rail industry procures services.

“In Digital Railway we will focus on specifying the problem we need help solving, rather than prescribing the solution we think is right. This will then allow the supply chain to come up with innovative low life cycle cost solutions – which they may also choose to finance.”

The NR boss also announced the creation of boards for each of the businesses overseeing devolved routes, with passengers representatives set to sit as permanent members. A trial for these boards will be set up by April 2017.

He then concluded: “We have the fastest growing and safest railway in Europe. But it is under unprecedented pressure due to record passenger numbers, and this pressure will only increase in coming years.

“To meet the immense capacity challenges facing us, all parts of the railway have to modernise. We must all relentlessly put the passenger at the core of everything we do if we are to step up and deliver a better, more reliable and affordable railway, fit for all.”

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