MECX Group News

Rail Franchising Model to be Reformed by Boris Johnson

The government has announced that the rail franchising model in the UK is going to be changed and the railway reform proposals will be brought forward.

The government has announced that it wants to get rid of the rail franchising system that has been in place since the 1990s. This could take place as soon as 2020 with a new model coming into place that focuses on performance and reliability.

Currently, the railway industry is anticipating the results of the Williams Review with the results becoming apparent once it is published. The aim is to ensure that a prospering economy will reach every inch of the country, ensuring that everyone has access to railway services. As these proposals are brought forward, they will replace the current model whereby private operators have monopolies over rail networks.

These significant changes will enhance reliability and create a railways system that benefits from better connectivity. It will be based on the same model that was in place before privatisation came into effect. There will also be localised decision-making that has a positive effect on the day-to-day running of the rail network.

The independent chair of the Rail Review, Keith Williams, has already received a number of proposals from rail bodies and operators.

Back in July, the ORR called for accessibility and compensation reforms while the Rail Delivery Groups also called for the current franchising model to come to an end. They are in favour of having multiple operators on mass commuter routes whilst also calling for an independent reviewing body.

Many train operators, passenger and industry bodies have claimed that major reform is required while Virgin have also put forward a new model that is based around an airline-style when it comes to fares and franchising.

Following the recommendations from the review, which are expected in the next few weeks, the government is then expected to release a white paper on the reforms.

RMT, the rail union did not respond to the proposal or the Queen’s Speech in a positive way. They have called the proposed changes nothing more than a re-packaging and re-branding of the current failed rail franchising model. They have said that if the railways are privatised then they will no longer be compatible with services that are reliable while lower fares and investment infrastructure will diminish because of the way in which train companies feed on the profits and dividends produced by the system.


New Report Suggests That HS2 is Out of Control

There is no denying that HS2 has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. However, it still looks as though things are heading in the wrong direction according to a new report which suggests that the money should be spent upgrading existing routes and building new rail links.

The Adam Smith Institute is a Think Tank that is suggesting that timetables should be overhauled while tracks should be doubled. Along with this, it believes that closed rail lines should be re-opened ultimately suggesting that there are solutions available to increase capacity and improve journey times at a fraction of the cost of HS2.

Last week, claims were made that the HS2 route between Birmingham and Leeds could be scrapped as way of reducing the costs. However, this latest report suggests that HS2 could be seen to be a significant black hole for taxpayers.

Therefore, it is calling for new sections of conventional high-speed lines to be built between the mainlines as well as Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham while also upgrading train facilities.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also launched a review of whether to scrap HS2 and that is due to be completed this autumn. The review is being led by Douglas Oakervee who was a former chairman of HS2 Ltd.

As it currently stands, figures that have been compiled by HS2 have highlighted that there could be a delay of as much as seven years on the delivery of the project while it could tun £26 billion over budget, bringing the total cost to £88 billion.

As it currently stands, HS2 has become one of the largest projects of our generation but it is one that has spiralled out of control. The UK is in desperate need of a better rail infrastructure but it is looking as though HS2 is not the solution that the UK is looking for.

It is a project that has been over-engineered, ideologically driven and will not deal with the problems that travellers are facing on a regular basis. Therefore, reports such as this suggest that HS2 is a doomed project and that now is the time to start focusing on cost-effective solutions that can help to create a railway network that is future proof.

Continue to Use HS1 and Pay £26m Each Year

An announcement has been made by the Office of Rail and Road stating that if operators want to continue to use HS1 then they will be required to pay £26m each year in order to preserve the assets.

There are 67 miles of high-speed track operated by HS1, connecting London to the Channel Tunnel. However, in order to maintain the railways and the fleet, it has been proposed that £26m will have to be paid each year to do so.

The ORR carried out analysis under its five-year review and it found that costs in the future would be higher due to the fact that assets will be older and will require frequent work.

Despite this, the figure of £26m is £9m less than HS1 had originally requested, with the ORR choosing to opt for the lower figure. This was to ensure that they could call the request as sufficient.

The public will have access to the Draft Determination proposal which will be available to them until November 11. The final determination of bill for the next year will then be announced in January.

There is an agreement in place whereby HS1 will operate HS1 trains until the end of 2040. However, it has made a number of proposals and the ORR are believed to have accepted many of them, making recommendations as to how their assets should be managed. This cover the likes of the efficiency of the supply chain as well as the way in which it approached research and development.

While the public consultation takes place, stakeholders will be asked for their opinions in relation to the considerations that have been recommended. The chief executive of the ORR, John Larkinson has said that the HS1 is a valuable public asset but their role is to deliver independent assurance that HS1 assets can be maintained to a high level of kept in good condition at a cost that is as low as possible.

This is vital as it ensures that operators and therefore passengers, as well as freight users, can benefit from a good deal now without the risk of penalising future generations.

Mecx rail contractors

Hourly Service Between Wales & London Revealed

A new open-access train operator, Grand Union Trains has revealed plans to launch a new service linking Wales and London by May 2021.

The trains will begin running every two hours but by May 2023, this will be cut to each hour. This will create 150 new jobs and will see further investment made in the Severn Tunnel Junction Station.

The Office of Rail and Road have received proposals requesting permission to begin work. As it stands, the journey takes 2 hours and 5 minutes but this new route will reduce that by 20 minutes. The service will utilise electric trains that have the ability to travel at 125mph, these were trains that once run between Edinburgh and London.

To complement this, a new road will be created, linking the station to the M4, helping to ease traffic on the motorway and around Newport.

By May 2023, the service will be expanded so that it runs every hour, beginning its journey from Llanelli and use new Hitachi trains. The service would then stop at Swansea but unlike the Great Western Service which stops at Port Talbot and Bridgend, it would go straight through to Cardiff Central.

Passengers have been promised that they will be able to take advantage of an affordable service that can be accessed by all and for those who have to stand up, there will be a 50% discount. The firm is also looking to work with InterCity RailFreight to explore the option of transporting parcels which would include items for the NHS and food. This would mean that goods could be in London in less than two hours. InterCity RailFreight has been using passenger trains since 2013 to transport time-critical medical samples between the East Midlands and London. As a result, the firm will also create a parcel concentration hub, with the Severn Tunnel Junction being the ideal location once it has been through the required upgrade. A facility would also be required at the London end of the service but that could be located a short distance from the station.

On the whole, the service could change the way in which people travel and can make both London and Wales more accessible to many.




Transpennine Route – A Potential £2.9bn Upgrade

Network Rail has submitted adventurous plans with the aim of rebuilding an electrifying an 8-mile stretch of the TransPennine Route. This is will form part of a public consultation and will be part of a major upgrade should it come to fruition.

 These plans form part of the £2.9bn TransPennine Upgrade programme and the aim is to provide passengers with extra seats and trains as well as faster services between Manchester, York, Huddersfield and Leeds.

 A suggestion has also been put forward by Network Rail to double the number of tracks to fours, while a grade separation has been suggested such as a bridge or tunnel at Ravensthorpe.

 The plans welcome feedback as part of the public consultation on the proposed upgrades to the 8-mile stretch of track between Huddersfield and Westtown, where the thoughts of the community and businesses will be taken into consideration.

 The principal sponsor at Network Rail, Kieran Dunkin stated that the upgrade will come with an array of benefits for passengers, giving them what they expect from the service which includes reliability, extra trains and additional seats while journey times will be reduced.

 The upgrade of the TransPennine Router has been eagerly anticipated and the final stages of development are close. Therefore, obtaining feedback from passengers and neighbours on the plans for this 8-mile stretch is an important part of the next step in the development process.

 The proposed plans bring with them complete overhauls or renovations work on the stations at Huddersfield, Deighton, Mirfield and Ravensthorpe. This will bring the stations into the 21st century while enabling them to handle upgrades to the tracks and services. The initial phases of the consultation process will come to an end during late-October. As soon as the feedback has been received and considered, the second phase will then be subject to another round of consultation that relates to any changes that have been made.

 All feedback that is received as part of the consultation will help to create the Transport and Works Act Order submission that Network rail will put to the transport secretary in Autumn 2020

MECX UAS Support Bat Conservation At Chester Zoo

MECX UAS Specialist Projects Team were called upon by Chester Zoo to help them with a bat research and conservation program.  Indeed MECX Group is an avid Corporate Sponsor of Chester Zoo and love to support ecological & environmental projects such as this.  Our projects team were also asked to provide their expertise in vegetation management, tree risk surveys, & putting up 130 bat boxes into various trees across Chester Zoo’s 125 acre estate.

The Zoo is a biodiversity hotspot and a haven for wildlife and studies have never officially been undertaken into the zoo’s current bat population.  Working closely with UK Wildlife and the Zoo’s conservation team the MECX UAS Arborist teams put up numerous bat boxes across the Zoo’s estate into trees which had been identified as potential bat breeding spots.  The bat boxes used were purchased from a specialist supplier in Germany and weighed anything from 5kg to 22.5kg, being made out of concrete and wood which was not treated with any preservatives.  Our teams placed up to 3 boxes into each tree ensuring that there was a clear flight path & all the boxes were facing in different directions – such as south-east, south-west and north.  This would then give any maternity roosting bats the best chance of success.

Bats are the least understood mammal in the UK when it comes to data- the 2018 mammal review says “population status unknown, range status unknown and habitat status unknown” for many bat species. What we do know however, is that their habitat is in decline especially for those which rely on ancient woodland and pasture grassland. It is anticipated bat numbers of some species are declining along with their habitat.  This is Why MECX UAS are proud to sponsor and assist in this vital Wild Life Research Program. 


Mecx rail contractors

Cardiff Central Station to Benefit from £58m Upgrade

Deborah Lillis

It has now been confirmed that Cardiff Central Station will benefit from £58m funding. This is subject to the necessary assurances that the scheme will provide value for money. However, the upgrades, once completed will help to reduce crowding and congestions during peak periods. This will also help to enhance regeneration and make it possible for longer trains that offer more seats to arrive and depart from this popular train station.

Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Transport has said that those who use the station in Cardiff have the right to a modern station that is both accessible and supports the city. Therefore, the funding has the ability to offer this while also ensuring passengers can take advantage of a more reliable and comfortable experience as well as faster journeys to and from the capital.

As a result and in order for the funding to work, the two governments in Wales will have to work together. This will help to enhance the union and so, the proposals for this impressive business case will be sent to the Secretary of State. Alun Cairns, the Secretary of State for Wales has also made it clear that Wales is fully committed to improve the entire experience as well as standards for passengers throughout Wales. Therefore, this funding will make Cardiff an appealing destination for tourists and commuters at a time when the city is going through regeneration.

There are also plans in place to create a West Wales Parkway station whereby passengers will benefit from faster times when travelling from Pembrokeshire to Cardiff. This will also help to improve connectivity around Swansea, giving businesses and the people of Swansea the chance to take advantage of opportunities.

This investment forms part of the £5bn that the UK government is investing in the experience for passengers when they make a journey by train using the Great Western Mainline between South Wales and London. Therefore, there will be more seats, more reliability and faster services.

The plans are adventurous but come at a time when South Wales is moving into an exciting period especially with the installation of the Metro.




Mecx rail contractors

£100m South Wales Metro -TfW Begins Work

Deborah Lillis

Work on the new £100m depot for the South Wales Metro has begun and from here, support will be provided to all vehicles on the system.

Transport for Wales (TfW) has started the work with the depot, which is located in Taff’s Well, with the aim for it to be up and running by 2022. This forms part of a wider £5bn investment as part of the project where the transport infrastructure in Wales will be transformed.

The depot will provide maintenance on trams as well as stabling services for vehicles while there will be a control centre located here to oversee the running of the network.

Simon Rhoden, the Director of rail services infrastructure at TfW, has said that they are working with the Welsh Government to deliver a transport network that provides a huge number of benefits to the people of Wales. The demolition works at the site creates the start of the project and the journey that will result in South Wales benefiting from a fully-integrated metro system.

This is the first step in a significant investment, where the entire transport network in South Wales will become one that is fit for purpose in the world that we live in. The entire area will benefit socially, economically and environmentally.

This new metro network has been part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund via the Welsh Government. Last month TfW awarded the first early contractor involvement contracts to begin creating the Metro’s control systems, stations and maintenance depots.

Ken Skates, the Economy and Transport Minister has said that the project is a clear indication of the commitments that are being made in improving the rail services in Wales. The new network will create vital transport links for communities while also becoming one of the most modern systems in the UK.

Therefore, the depot in Taff’s Well will play a pivotal role and so, the work is underway, allowing the project to gather momentum.

The CEO of TfW has said that it is crucial that the work has started and that this depot will become a central facility for Transport for Wales and so, this is a key milestone in the entire journey, eventually ending with a Metro network that serves the people of South Wales.

MECX Group News

British Steel Provided a Lifeline after Bid From Network Rail

Deborah Lillis

Network Rail has submitted an indicative bid in an attempt to take over certain aspects of British Steel in an attempt to turn around the poor performing business, which has a future that is looking bleak.

If British Steel was to collapse and close, then it would have a significant impact on the rail network, and that is why Network Rail wants to save the business.

If no other buyers can be found, then Network Rail will continue with the bid. They would look to take control of how welding, finishing and storing rails are managed, in line with the requirements or the rail network in the UK.

However, it has been reported that as many as ten businesses could bid to take over the company. Despite this, the reluctant bid from Network Rail could disrupt the bidding process.

Network Rail have commented on the surprise bid, stating that they want to continue to support British Steel, whereby it wants to work with the liquidator and the new owner of the company. The bid has been made for some of the critical assets that the railway network relies on. However, the preference is that an alternative purchaser is found for the business. They have made it clear that their offer would undermine with the role of Network Rail being to safely run the railway for millions of people. This ensures that they can continue to rely on it every day and so, to continue that, they are exploring all option.

The government has said that it would prefer to sell the company completely to one buyer instead of breaking up the business and allowing Network Rail to manage certain areas of it.  In May, British Steel went into administration following failed talks between the owners and the government.

In April, the government loaned the business £100m in order to pay off an EU carbon bill but competition from overseas has resulted in the business struggling to compete. If British Steel closes, then it could result in 25,000 jobs being put at risk with many of those being in the supply chain.





Mecx rail contractors

First ECI Contracts Awarded for South Wales Metro

Deborah Lillis

The South Wales Metro has taken another step in the right direction. Transport for Wales has now awarded three companies and so, they can now begin the preparatory work on the South Wales Metro which has been priced at a cost of £738m.

This announcement has indicated that Balfour Beatty, Alun Griffiths and Siemens are being given the roles of building the control systems, stations and maintenance depots for the South Wales Metro. This is a serious move and highlights that the ball is rolling as the project begins to gather momentum.

The Chief Executive of Transport for Wales, James price has said that the South Wales Metro is a highly anticipated yet exciting project that has been in the pipeline for some time and that it comes with significant importance. Therefore, Transport for Wales will now be working with three highly reputable companies, as they begin work on the first stages of delivering a new kind of public transport to the area.

The entire region of South Wales will benefit from the development of the Metro and the local economy will certainly benefit. Jobs will be created directly while the local supply chain will also benefit.

Transport for Wales will form a close relationship with all three companies, ensuring that all work towards making this vision a reality. This will ensure that people in the region will benefit from a safe, affordable and integrated transport network that are also easily accessible by those who live in the region. Ultimately, the aim is to deliver a network that the people of Wales can be proud of.

So, this is the beginning of a huge investment of £5bn in the transport infrastructure throughout the whole of Wales. The manager of Balfour Beatty Rail, Nick Rayner has said that the announcement has marked a milestone in the delivery of the project and the investment made in the South Wales Metro project. Therefore, once it is completed, transport links will be improved significantly.

All three companies will work on the project, ensuring that they deliver their part of the agreement, helping the project get on its feet and underway. It seems as though this highly-anticipated scheme is now gathering momentum and that should please the people of South Wales.


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