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Five years and £2bn of electrification

Network Rail, the Railway Industry Association (RIA) and key suppliers launched the National Electrification Programme this morning, emphasising collaboration, safety, and the unprecedented scale of the work to come.

After new electrification spend of circa £200m in CP4, which is in its final weeks, CP5 will see a spend of closer to £4bn. In fact, the total figure will be even higher, once other projects with an electrification component – like the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP) and the TransPennine upgrade – are included. Many in the industry are calling for a ‘rolling programme’ of electrification extending into CP6 and CP7

Network Rail Infrastructure Projects’ outgoing managing director Simon Kirby – who is soon to take over as HS2’s chief executive – said there had been a big turnaround on electrification, and that just six or seven years ago few would have predicted that a programme of this scale would soon be launched.

“We’ve come a long way and convinced a lot of people to get here,” he said.  

He emphasised the “large investment in people and skills” that will need to happen, both at Network Rail and its four new framework suppliers across six geographic regions – Balfour Beatty, AmeyInabensa, CarillionPowerlines and ABC Electrification – who also answered questions at this morning’s launch at the Institution of Civil Engineers in central London, before symbolically signing contracts with Kirby.

He also urged the industry to remember that electrification is done for passengers’ sake, not for its own sake – and that dealing with a predicted 16% growth in passenger use of the railway over CP5 was key. He emphasised the need to work collaboratively with a long-term focus, and the fact that electrification had whole system requirements, not just cables.

He said that the programme will create about 2,000 jobs, but the important thing for Network Rail was having competent, trained people delivering the programme safely.

Nick Elliott, regional director for Network Rail IP in the Southern region, also spoke at the launch, proudly holding aloft the award won by his team and RIA for the REDP (Rail Electrification Development Programme) at Rail Technology Magazine’s UK Rail Industry Awards last month. The REDP is being renamed the Rail Electrification Delivery Group, he said, in recognition of this new stage of the national programme. CP6 is looking “very exciting”, he added.

NEP Launch 074

Elliott admitted that there are “some big issues” to overcome before the industry can guarantee it has the resources and skills to deliver the programme, and listed some of the things being done to ensure this happens.

Railway Industry Association (RIA) director general Jeremy Candfield discussed the role of the supply chain in building the case for electrification and helping shift the DfT from its 2007 policy, which foresaw no major electrification projects (and no high-speed rail, he noted as an aside).

The DfT’s white paper said then: “…it would not be prudent to commit now to 'all-or-nothing' projects, such as network-wide electrification or a high-speed line, for which the longer-term benefits are currently uncertain and which could delay tackling the current strategic priorities such as capacity.”

He said: “We’ve had 20 years or thereabouts of not very much – or thereabouts – so deliverability is bound to be an important issue, and it is.”

He said the ORR as regulator and DFT as funder both needed the industry to demonstrate well-founded confidence in the deliverability of the programme, and the cross-industry programmes and workshops organised by RIA had helped to this.

Committing to major, long-term electrification programmes would help give the industry the confidence it needs to really invest in people, skills and equipment for the future, he said, reducing electrification’s unit costs in the long term.

He added: “With help from NSARE [the National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering], new blood will be brought into the industry.”

Today, about 40% of the network is electrified – which will rise to 51% by the end of CP5 in 2019. Routes being electrified include the Great Western, the North West, the Midland Main Line, the South Wales Valley Line, works on the East Coast Main Line, Transpennine routes, and smaller projects like Walsall to Rugeley and Micklefield to Selby. By the end of CP6, this could rise to 60%, Candfield suggested.

Network Rail’s Guy Wilmshurt-Smith – one of the UK Rail Industry Awards’ judges – spoke about training, and the need to ensure the industry had enough competent, trained people to deliver this major programme safely and successfully.

He said: “Investing properly in training underpins any successful programme – particularly this one for electrification. But in the railway, in terms of vocational skills, it’s fair to say that the electrification side has been very much the Cinderella when compared to signalling & telecoms and track. There’s a fair bit of catching up to do.”

He said the OLE training strands at Carstairs, Preston, Doncaster, Romford, Peterborough and Walsall have produced about 6,000 training days of capacity, which will be enhanced by the new £14.6m super-centre at York, with its 65,000 sq ft of training space and full suite of electrical training capability.

He said: “With the nine other OLE training facilities in the supply chain, there is reasonable capacity in the Midlands and the north. But there are some significant gaps in the west. So in September we’ll be opening a dedicated electrical training facility in Swindon that’s double the size of anything we’ve delivered so far in terms of electrical training capacity.

“Within the next six months, we will have doubled our capability on our delivery of training. Furthermore, in December we’ll be opening our final big training centre, in Basingstoke, at a cost of £17m. We haven’t yet decided whether we’re going to add OLE facilities to that.”

Network Rail also has a ‘conversion’ programme to get engineers from other disciplines up to speed with electrification. At the time of the launch, 42 engineers had gone through that, with nine more in progress.

Wilmshurt-Smith addressed professional development, and the need for engineers to see training the next generation as “part of their day jobs” and not something just to be handled by an external training organisation.

He explained: “I’m absolutely convinced that good professional development can only be led by practising engineers. They need to be your best people – your role models for safer behaviours. You need to be prepared to release them for a few weeks a year in order to actively deliver aspects of the training across the industry.”

At a Q&A session with senior representatives of the four main suppliers after the launch, the main topic was collaboration and knowledge-sharing. Elliott insisted that breaking down commercial barriers would be key to getting the programme delivered, with the companies required to avoid the “natural tendency” to act defensively rather than share things they’ve learnt.

The suppliers on the panel – Amey and AmeyInabensa’s Simon Rhoden, Jonathan Willcock of Alstom UK and ABC Electrification, Balfour Beatty’s Steven Bell and Carillion's Martin Smith – talked a good talk on this. CP5 will show whether they put it into practice

More on the National Electrification Programme in the April/May 2014 edition of RTM.

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