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Digital Railway funding certainty vital to stop programme becoming ‘unsustainable’

Digital Railway needs early certainty over its CP6 funding, otherwise the programme risks having a spike of activity towards the end, which could make it “unrealistic and unsustainable”.

Speaking to delegates at that inaugural TransCityRail North Conference yesterday, Phil Bennett, commercial director of Digital Railway, outlined the positive benefits the programme can deliver, but also the need to change the relationship with suppliers and the way Network Rail works.

He added that, based on current conversations with the DfT, the Digital Railway team will see funding to deliver schemes in CP6.

“Assuming that is true, and we expect a decision to underpin that in the spring, that is what the business cases are working towards,” noted Bennett.

Discussing the business cases, he said these are focusing on the Great Eastern line, the TransPennine route upgrade and Brighton Main Line. These are projects David Waboso, the new MD of Digital Railway, told RTM earlier in the year were priorities.

“We are in the process of developing a series of route-specific business cases for Digital Railway that actually focus on coming up with a particular configuration to solve a particular problem on a particular piece of infrastructure today,” said Bennett.

“We are looking at things like capacity on the Great Eastern line and making sure the solution for TransPennine upgrade is right, and takes the right blend of digital and conventional interventions. It is also things like making sure we have the right tools to improve performance on the Brighton Main Line. Those target business cases are there.”

He argued that an early commitment to funding is vital as the Digital Railway teams would look to start the procurement of complex elements of the programme in the first quarter and sector of 2017.

“This because we need to get those contracts in place in order to start to do the early design and development, and start that Early Contractor Involvement phase of the process, such that we can hit the ground at least half-running for CP6 – or we will end up with such a spike of activity towards the end it will become unrealistic and unsustainable,” said Bennett.

Despite this word of caution, Bennett noted that things are looking “very positive” for Digital Railway, as it is expected to be included in the forthcoming Initial Industry Advice document. Additionally, the Transport Select Committee published a recent report which, in general, supported the further investigation of Digital Railway opportunities.

He added that his team needs to continue with its early supplier engagement, “to make sure that we have the right input from the subject matter expertise that the solutions we are offering are the best that are out there. And underneath all of that we need to do the minor bit of delivering on CP5”.

“There is about half a billion pounds worth of Digital Railway-related expenditure in CP5 from candidates to early deployment schemes, in cab fitment funds, but actually there are elements of schemes like Thameslink and Crossrail that do deploy these technologies as part of their commissioning,” said Bennett. “It is crucial we deliver those to make sure we get the learning and, actually, support from the decision-makers to continue to roll out these technologies into CP6.”

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Lutz   12/11/2016 at 11:21

I think there is a lot to be said for looking at taking the program management of the Digital Railway out of NR. A JV coming out of the NIP with the capabilities and experience would facilitate continuity over funding, process, and management. This approach would help avoid the stop-go dynamics that would result from over-sight within multiple CPs. NR services would be an integral part and would allow a steady work-bank to be fed to NR. In this way, NR can continue to tune its processes and relationships around on-going work and the time-scales of the current Control Periods.

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