Interview with James Webster
The next few years are not far from the minds of many in the rail industry. Control Period 7 is just around the corner and there is great flux with the future of the renewals portfolio right across the country.
Not only that but the investment in the rail network is one where opportunity could meet reality in many different regions. And one of those regions is in the North West.
The Trilink programme on the West Coast Main Line, which is aiming to transform the section of line between Warrington and Carlisle, is described as a once in a lifetime opportunity to renew differently; to prepare the line for the future and improve its performance. At the heart of this is AtkinsRéalis, and we spoke to James Webster, Systems Integration Director about how the Trilink programme aims to become a new industry standard for collaboration.
It’s a huge programme, which has the potential to be a real gamechanger, not only on the scale of renewal, but also in the legacy it can make through collaboration, as James explains; “It genuinely brings together industry around a major renewals investment, where there's real commitment in delivering successful outcomes together and working to realise a suite of benefits that we've effectively co-designed.”
The project is a root and branch renewal programme, involving £2 billion pounds worth of investment from Network Rail over 10 years, a scale of investment in multi-discipline renewals that is rarely seen.
“Obviously, Network Rail can’t do it alone, and I think this is where cross-industry collaboration comes into play. We've spent this year mobilising, setting off with an authentic industry partnership approach and we've already seen the value of that.
“Through this development phase, we've started to look at different ideas and bringing different perspectives together has meant we have bounced off one another, figuring out how we fulfil the potential of our railway.
“It has meant for example that we’ve looked at our ability to maintain the railway better in the future, balancing freight and passenger services with access for engineering trains and what the infrastructure has to be like to operate most efficiently.”, James adds.
Renewals are something which have to happen on the network. Network Rail don’t have an option in this. But that creates opportunity to really make a difference and making rail travel (which is critical to carbon targets) more appealing is something which Network Rail need to get right. And that means, making renewal programmes more impactful.
To do that means looking for areas of the network that can be improved and generating the efficiencies which are needed to make that happen, but also, not just for today, but for the line 10 years later and future generations.
“We call it intelligent renewals, where we put something back that is slightly different than what's there today having identified other opportunities to rationalise the infrastructure and deliver more efficiently, reinvesting those savings so that we end up with a more capable railway.
“We want a railway that is geared towards the strategic needs of that route, given this once in a lifetime opportunity. That's one of the challenges we share as an industry. How do we get that right?
One of the other challenges is how we make sure that we're not waiting 10 years for a better railway, this is about how we design the programme to realise incremental benefits along the way.”
Of course, there are real practicalities and logistics to renewal programmes and the inevitable march of technology to contend with and digital signalling is one such thing. The East Coast Digital Programme has certainly established the groundwork there however, Trilink is also unique.
One commonality between the two programmes is the lasting legacy. As James comments: “The East Coast Digital Programme is a bit of a special event, really.
“It's a bit of a one off in that, once we've delivered that, no other digital scheme in the UK at least should be that complicated. It should have enabled the next wave of schemes to be simpler, but it has also redefined what we thought as possible through industry partnership.
The Trilink programme is a multidisciplinary route renewal and we're not going to stop doing those. Those are going to happen regularly, across the network. So this is actually an opportunity for us, I think, to redefine how we do these and explore, again, what's the art of the possible.”
James will be a keynote speaker at this years TransCity Rail North event, taking place at the Kimpton Hotel in Manchester on Thursday 9th November.
Photo Credit: Supplied