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Suppliers invited to challenge ‘rigorous’ NR standards for incentives

Network Rail is encouraging contractors, suppliers and stakeholders to propose changes to its standards, or the detailed requirements that underpin how the railway and improvement projects are run and delivered – all in exchange for incentives set to be progressively rolled out across the sector.

So far, Network Rail has already updated and streamlined 400 of its standards to cut down on complexity and cost, as well as encourage innovation.

Suppliers and other stakeholders will also be asked to suggest better ways of maintaining and enhancing the railway via Network Rail’s new standards challenge process.

The move comes as part of the infrastructure owner’s ambition to behave like a private sector business, a vision that chief executive Mark Carne has reiterated consistently over the past months and years.

Network Rail believes the move will break down barriers and make it easier to introduce new ideas and streamlined procedures from experts in the industry, thus making the company more customer-focused, competitive and commercially attractive to investors.

As part of the process, suppliers and other stakeholders are now able to submit a Standards Challenge Application when they consider the standard to be wrong, not support the application of best practice, or offer low value for money – ultimately getting rid of existing limitations.

All challenges received will undergo a rigorous impact assessment across a broad range of output capabilities such as safety, performance, environment and compatibility to make sure the capabilities are not compromised.

Jon Shaw, chief engineer at Network Rail, said: “We’ve recently updated our 400 most critical standards but to ensure our standards always represent current best practice and constantly strive to safely reduce the cost of the railway, we need the help of our wider industry partners as well as experts from other industries and universities.

“The launch of the standards challenge process is the lever for this, providing genuine recognition and incentives to propose more efficient ways of both enhancing and maintaining our railway.”

Network Rail will progressively introduce incentives following the launch of the process in order to engage stakeholders and encourage challenges. This can be done, for example, through providing corporate recognition of successful applications, assessing contract performance in relation to standards innovation, or, in certain scenarios, sharing part of the savings achieved after a successful challenge on a project.

David Clarke, technical director at the Railway Industry Association, which assisted Network Rail in finding a way to review its standards, said this challenge process was a key recommendation of the Hansford Review into contestability. He argued it provides supplies “with the ability to question overly rigorous standards thereby unlocking innovation, getting new technologies into the network and reducing costs.”

“Following two workshops with the rail supply chain, Network Rail has a system by which companies can provide their suggestions and ideas. Now, it is for the industry to come forward with their creative solutions – and we encourage all to do so,” Clarke added.


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