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Rail infrastructure work ‘far below expectations’ as UK civils face first drop in five years

The UK’s infrastructure sector posted a quarterly decline today for the first time in five years, largely due to a lack of work on the UK’s railways.

Figures released by the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) show that 50% of British infrastructure sectors have reported falling workloads, with the rail industry bringing up the rear.

On balance, the Workload Trends Survey found that work orders for British firms were down by an average of 10%, compared to a 30% drop in the rail sector on the same period last year.

CECA director of external affairs Marie-Claude Hemming argued the figures show that central government must do more to drive the creation of new projects.

However, nearly a quarter of the companies surveyed expected to be able to post improvements within the next 12 months.

The fall is not wholly unexpected but comes at a time when the workload and order books of British firms had not seen a decline since 2013, with Q3 of 2017 posting the highest figures in two years.

“Our hopes are that the decline in workloads during 2017 Q4 are representative of a pause in activity, rather than a sign of broader decline,” Hemming explained.

“Nonetheless these statistics reinforce our concern that rail activity is far below where we might have expected it to be at this stage of the investment cycle.”

Responding to the survey, Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA) said: “This is a graphic illustration of the impact the ‘boom and bust’ funding of rail investment is having in the UK, where rail suppliers see large ramp-ups in workloads in the early part of the five-year Control Period before steep drop-offs a year or two later.

“Not only does this make renewing and enhancing the railway more expensive, but for rail suppliers it results in freezing recruitment, making redundancies and cutting back on innovation and training.

“Given rail’s standing in today’s survey, it is clearly time for the industry – government, Network Rail, the Office of Rail and Road, suppliers and other key rail organisations – to come together to work out a way to end ‘boom and bust’.”

There have been a number of major infrastructure projects which were completed – or are nearing completion – as of late 2017.

For example, Network Rail’s Ordsall Chord scheme saw the creation of direct heavy rail connections between Manchester’s three city centre station for the first time.

While in London, the vast majority of infrastructure work on the Elizabeth Line has been completed, with Crossrail bosses announcing this week that they expect energisation to be completed within days, leading to the first testing of the line.

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Huguenot   01/02/2018 at 11:59

The RIA is absolutely right. Better to have a steady workload than all these peaks and troughs, which only add to costs in the end. It's the same with rolling stock: one minute we have a dearth, the next minute we have a surplus of stock with nowhere to go. How about a 15-year plan?

Lutz   01/02/2018 at 22:26

The call for action is unrealistic and demonstrates that the industry is not fully engaged. Those making the claims are in denial regards the current ability of NR to deliver and the near GBP 3.7 Billion over-spend/under-delivery that NR has estimated for the end of the current control period. It is therefore the industry itself that is at fault here, not the Government.

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