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NR confirms route devolution and new Western supervisory board

Network Rail has today formally announced that significant powers and decision-making for routes have already been devolved to a local level.

Speaking in its first report on progress since the publication of its transformation Plan, ‘Delivering for Our Customers’, the infrastructure owner said that around 99% of work was now approved at local level in an effort to devolve powers down to routes and speed up decision-making processes.

As well as this, powers for incentives have also been transferred to local routes, allowing routes to work with their TOCs and FOCs to create aligned objectives through new route scorecards, which will act as a public measure of how the railway is performing down to a local level.

It was also announced that the Great Western railway will be overseen by supervisory board made up of a team of people including passenger representatives, something that transport secretary Chris Grayling has welcomed.

“This is excellent news. Delivering major improvements on our busy network is a tough task. Whether it’s planning essential repairs, improving services, or dealing quickly with problems, it’s much better when it’s done by one joined-up team of people,” he said.

“Our railways are crucial to our economic future. While the solutions may differ in their models for each area, the outcome will be the same – a railway that is predominantly run by an integrated local team of people with a commitment to the smooth operation of their routes.”

The Western route supervisory board comprises the MDs of Network Rail Western Route, Great Western Railway (GWR) and Heathrow Express, as well as Nina Howe from Transport Focus, who will represent the voice of the passenger. It will be independently chaired by former government rail advisor Dick Fearn.

Network Rail boss Mark Carne emphasised the importance of devolving powers to local routes, arguing: “Network Rail is changing and devolution is now a reality for everyone in Network Rail.

“We have created smaller regional businesses and empowered them to run their railway in a way that best meets the needs of their train operating customers, bringing track and train together to deliver for passengers and business.”

Carne went on to describe devolution as “a fundamental building block” of NR’s transformation rail plan.

He added: “My vision is for Network Rail to behave like a private sector company putting customers at the heart of our business. This transformation, and ever closer working with freight and train operators, is essential if the railway is to properly meet the challenge of unprecedented customer growth and congestion.”

Several rail operators have welcomed NR’s update about devolving central powers to local routes.

Ian Bullock, route managing director at Arriva Trains Wales, commented: “We are working more closely with Network Rail than ever before and are building strong alliances. This is good news for us and good news for our passengers.

“We've recently launched a joint operations board which also incorporates the Welsh Government. A priority for this new board is to enhance collaborative working even further and ensure that we explore every possible opportunity to continue to better meet the needs of our passengers.”

And managing director at GWR Mark Hopwood agreed that devolution from central rail operators was the way forward.

“We have long recognised the importance aligned rail priorities and targets across the rail industry have on improving the service we give customers,” he added.

“We are in the midst of the biggest track and fleet upgrade in a generation on the Great Western Network, and customers expect us to deliver together. Today’s news will extend our current alliance agreements beyond GWR and Network Rail and will embed our aligned approach throughout the region.” 

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Noam Bleicher   24/02/2017 at 11:00

Where are we with the plan to create a 'virtual route' for freight and Cross Country? It's telling that XC have no representation on this Western board, despite being a major user of the network on the Basingstoke-Reading-Oxford-Banbury section.

Mark Carne   24/02/2017 at 11:53

We have also created a virtual devolved route for the freight and national passenger services. Paul McMahon is the boss of this business.

Rob Davis   24/02/2017 at 15:35

Great opportunity for NR & Toc's to work together . Just need Route/NR directors to push for oppurtunities to enhance the Public experience & where possible join forces to deliver Maintenance /renewals for multiple disciplines on our stations/network

Colin Sworder   25/02/2017 at 08:22

With empowerment - an echo from the 1990s - must come the support from owners and Boards that, because innovation in engineering requires iteration, incurs NRE and by definition a degree of technical failure and financial loss, the responsible manager and team will not suffer a career limiting event. What is being put in place to make this a reality in the devolved groups? There is also the supply chain, particularly the small businesses from which most innovation comes, which must have confidence that such support exists. The 1990s empowerment model failed because the people factors were not understood and addressed.

Pdeaves   01/03/2017 at 09:24

"around 99% of work was now approved at local level ... to speed up decision-making processes". Those with long memories will remember that everything was taken away from the routes and centralised in Milton Keynes to make 'the system' most efficient. People who didn't want to move left the business and skills were lost and had to be relearnt by others. I wonder if the same thing will happen again, where the routes have to expend a lot of effort recruiting and training.

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