Network Rail Action Plan Approved by ORR

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Following the enforcement action taken against Network Rail in November 2018, an action plan has been submitted to the ORR and subsequently approved, making it possible for NR to improve its performance.

The plan indicates how Network Rail plans to improve its poor performance by working more closely with train operators. Here it will be possible to create a new performance management system where incidents are dealt with quickly while its operational capacity will be increased.

The punctuality and reliability levels of Network Rail had significantly dropped to the lowest point since the five-year control period was put into place. This resulted in the ORR issuing Network Rail with a provisional order where urgent action had to be taken in order to address the problem.

The 6-month Network Rail Monitor by ORR found that the extreme weather such as heat and snow as well as the problems relating to the implementation of the May timetable changes all played a part in the infrastructure manager’s poor performance. So, the response from Network Rail outlines the specific actions it will take to identify the problems and address the issues that have caused this long decline in punctuality and reliability. This will involve introducing a new performance management system that will provide greater insight into what causes delays.

It also became clear that Network Rail would seek out ways to improve incident response time and reduce the time it takes to bring services back to normal following any disruption. There will also be improvements made in recruitment and staff training as a way of increasing its operations capacity.

The Director of Planning & Performance at ORR, Graham Richard has said that Network Rail must commit fully to improving performance. They will also make sure that Network Rail delivers on the steps that it will take to make the relevant improvements for both passengers and customers. This positive reaction has been welcomed and that the plan put in place will identify and tackle the problems and the drop in punctuality.

This comes after the ORR announced last week that it would bring in new regulations that put Network Rail responsible by targeting the areas that affect passengers and funders the most. They will also hit the bonuses that senior manager’s receive should they not hit their performance targets.

Brexit Will Make Skills Gap Worse According to UK Businesses

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A study has found that half of the businesses in the UK believe that Brexit will have a negative impact on skills shortages. As a result, almost 66% of employers believe that their business will suffer at the hands of Brexit because there will be a lack of workers who possess the required skills to carry out roles. The study involved 1,355 employers across the UK.

Along with this, around 25% of businesses in the UK believe that the country is not in a position to compete on a global scale because of the skills gap with over half of employers believing that the shortage will have the biggest impact at mid-management level.

With Brexit looming and the uncertainty surrounding it, it is likely that employers will have to take an additional approach to the way in which they attract the best talent but also how they retain it.

These findings, which suggest a problem and staff shortages around mid-management levels are a result of the 2008 financial crisis and the long-term impact that it has had, especially as levels of graduate recruitment dropped drastically.

In an attempt to deal with the ever-decreasing pool of skilled workers, nearly 50% of UK business have said that they would be willing to train and upskill workers in preparation for them to take on new roles.

It is likely that employers will need to take a broader approach when considering their hiring criteria and so, they should look to hire professionals who have transferable skills from other backgrounds. As well as this, employers should think about building healthy relationships with universities and colleges and how that would enable them to reach out to students as a way of making them look as though they are highly regarded employers. Along with this, it will also provide students with the chance to enhance their skills early which will have a positive impact when they get into the workplace.

One industry that has suffered significantly as a result of this is the construction industry. Wages have increased as businesses have found it difficult to find skilled builders at a time when businesses are already having to deal with an increase in the cost of materials following the decision to leave the EU in 2016.

New Metro Fleet for Wales and Border Franchise

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Legal & General, has given the Wales and Borders Rail Franchise £200 million in order to introduce new rolling stock to the south Wales Metro.

The current fleet in service is ageing and so, this funding will enable the Wales and Border Franchise to replace the fleet. This will enable them to improve the capacity of services in Cardiff as well as the many valley lines that make up the metro route, much of which has been electrified.

The new fleet will be made up of around 60 new trains consisting of 36 light rail overhead electric and battery powered trains as well as 24 tri-mode trains which will be manufactured by Stadler with the aim of them entering operations in 2024.

The current diesel fleet will be replaced by the new metro fleet, helping to reduce emissions on the router while the tri-mode trains will be able to use the overhead electric lines as well as battery and diesel engines. This will be the fifth investment made in the industry by Legal & General, proving that it continues to commit to the infrastructure of the UK.

The head of infrastructure, Tom Sumpster has said that they are pleased to provide this financing, making it possible for Wales & Borders franchise to lower carbon emissions and provide a new level of transport. This will help to improve links between England and Wales. This is a clear indication that Legal & General are happy to invest in the UK railway provision while complementing its previous commitment to regenerating key areas of Cardiff such as the area surrounding the train station. Their ongoing commitment is a clear sign that they want to help the infrastructure in the UK to make great strides forward with the aim of enhancing the way in which people lead their lives. This includes the work and personal lives while bringing businesses and communities together.

The electrification work on the Core Valley Lines is being undertaken by KeolisAmey who also operates the new Wales and Border franchise

Calls for TFL to be given Rail Infrastructure Powers

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The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan has made calls for the government to make a change to the control of rail infrastructure management by passing it over to TFL and to take control of the devolved suburban services.

These calls were made by Khan in an attempt to help create a new metro-style service located in the south and southeast of London. This would result in all responsibility being taken from Network Rail and transferred to TFL so that it can focus on repairing the lack of coordination between those who provide the infrastructure and the rail operators.

The TFL would also be able to prioritise investment, providing funding for new stations, tracks and signalling, helping to create a rail network that is fully-integrated and linked.

The mayor claimed that a third of people who live in the south and southeast of London with a station nearby did not benefit from a regular train service. This resulted in him making a claim that the current rail franchise is damaged to the point where it cannot be fixed.

The blame was placed at the feet of dysfunctional franchises that were not capable of dealing with the high-volume or frequency that the people of London expect from a suburban metro. He also claimed that the ticket system is too complicated and the poor transport links has put a stop to housing development and the growth of the economy.

The deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander has said that there has never been such a need for devolution of the rail services. The whole of London has to have access to a reliable service that is frequent and integrated that fits in with a global city such as London. The new suburban metro would help to promote economic growth as well as new jobs and the construction of more homes.

So, transferring responsibility would help to transform the transport network in London. All of which comes after the TFL published a strategic case for ‘metroisation’, where existing rail lines would be transformed into reliable services that commuters can use.

 

 

 

 

 

ORR Expects Co-operation to Avert New Trains Crisis

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The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has demanded that train operators, rolling stock owners, Network Rail and train builders must co-operate to make sure that all new trains can be used on the infrastructure in the UK as well as the operational systems.

Following the delay to several new train fleets, the ORR has made this demand, especially after the latest delay involved the testing of the Northern’s CAF Class 195 diesel and ‘331’ electric multiple units was suspended. This suspension was put in place because of a problem with the inter car couplings coming into contact with the bodies while negotiating tight bends. However, Northern actually believe that this problem will be rectified prior to the ‘331s’ being put into service in May.

When it comes to giving new trains the authorisation into service, it also means that compliance has been met with regards to the specific Technical Standards of Interoperability (TSI). The TSIs do cover safety aspects although they do not cover all aspects of health and safety. Their main purpose are to ensure that interoperable train operation throughout Europe is possible while making trade possible.

Therefore, all of the relevant organisations need to work cohesively to make sure that all new trains remain compatible with the rail infrastructure in the UK as well as operational systems. There have been cases where train builders have delivered trains that are TSI compliant but continue to have issues when they are presented to the TOCs. As a result, TOCs should take the lead by making sure that the correct systems are implemented so that any changes that come with new trains can be managed effectively.

The delays that were seen with the CAFs Northern units is just one of a number of delays that have been experienced with new fleets. In fact, there have been delays to many fleets including TransPennine Express Mk 5As, Caledonian Sleeper Mk 5s, LNER Azumas, Govia Thameslink Railway Class 717sand London Overground Class 710s, all of which should have been put into service in 2018. Northern also had plans to put three Class 195 DMUs into operation by the time the end of December arrived but that plan had to be rescheduled as problems had become apparent prior to introduction.

A New Regulator to Regulate the Railways

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A new organisation to regulate the railway in place of the ORR is needed according to the Rail Delivery Group (RDG).

In response to the government’s request for submissions to the Williams Review, the Chief Executive of the RDG, Paul Plummer has stated that a new organisation should be created in order for those who make decisions on the railway to be held accountable. This will lead to enhanced collaborative working in the future.

The aim of this new organisation would be to act as a guide, whilst at the same time bringing all rail network works and respective targets together.  Achieving this would also release politicians from daily details and any associated saga. Therefore, this new organisation should replace the ORR.

There is no doubt that the immense infrastructure changes and substantial reforms are now pushing the UK’s rail sector into a new era.  With too many regulatory bodies involved in the process this can often lead to conflicting remits and agendas competing against one another. As it currently stands, accountability is not particularly clear and that means that the public is unaware of who is actually responsible.

This has lead to ministers feeling as though they are responsible for problems on a day-to-day basis. As a result, they are dealing with the political risks by implementing constrictive contracts, but that only holds companies back from working innovatively and evolving. This has put the industry in a position where it is risk-averse whilst also not considering the bigger picture. Ultimately, this results in a railway that does not perform the way that passengers need it to.

So, this is the reason why there is now a call for an arms-length body that can implement a National Rail Policy in the correct way. This would make it possible for politicians to step back and focus on what really matters when it comes to creating a railway that appeals and works for the masses.

However, it is vital that this new body is separate from those that run the railway. This would mean that it can focus on setting strategies, objectives and targets without focusing on its performance when it comes to taking responsibility for running the railway.

This has to be a new organisation that is unlike any other organisation that has gone before it, with the right leadership, autonomy and power.

 

High-Speed City Centre Rail Station in Liverpool is to be put Forward

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A new high-speed rail station that will connect Liverpool city centre to HS2 and the Northern Powerhouse Rail has had a commission unveiled by Liverpool City Region Combined Authority.

The commission comes after the Transport for the North’s Strategic Transport Plan which will connect the Liverpool City Region to HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, however, it was made clear that a new station would be required in order to deal with these changes. The creation of the station commission is believed to bring a once in a lifetime opportunity

There have been calls for the city to be given a new city centre station that can accommodate HS2 trains as well as Northern Powerhouse Trains, as Liverpool Lime Street does not have the capacity or the infrastructure to cope. This new station will open the doors to the city centre of Liverpool, bringing it into modern times as well as bringing both social and economic benefits to not just the city but also the north. If Liverpool is connected to HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, it will reduce journey times, improve capacity and enhance the economy to the tune of £15bn. The aim is to create more than just a station but a transport hub that can be considered a destination on its own while also being something that is architecturally beautiful while offering an array of facilities including leisure, commercial, retail and residential offerings. However, it has been acknowledged that this is a project that will present significant challenges and that is the commission has been created to drive the idea forward.

The commission will call on experts from a number of sectors including transport, business and public sectors while its remit will ensure that all considerations are considered in order to develop the project such as size, functions, location and the position of the station. The commission will be chaired by Denise Barrett-Baxendale who is keen to face the challenges while also understanding just how important it is to create a transport hub that prepares the city for its future.

As the work is taken forward by the commission, the Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson has said that now is the time for the government to step up and provide the funding that is required to make it happen.

 

Railway of the Future

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A formal integration between Rail Alliance and the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education has been announced. The two organisations plan to work together as a way of taking a new approach to deal with railway challenges, bringing the industry and academia together as one.

The announcement was made in Birmingham next to the construction site of the HS2 Curzon Street Station by the Managing Director of BCRRE and Rail Alliance Alex Burrows. He made it clear that this now presents a significant opportunity for the rail industry as a whole. With the two organisations joining forces, it will pave the way for new and exciting opportunities for railway suppliers as well as academia to work together to create the railway of the future. This so-called new team would become a strong force that comes together to guarantee the delivery of the recently announced Rail Sector Deal.

Those members who make up the Rail Alliance will be encouraged to engage with the BCRRE specialists directly at the research centre located on the Edgbaston campus of the University of Birmingham. This will build on work already carried out by BCRRE to help SME’s to make ways into the international markets.

The Rail Alliance will no longer charge businesses to join but there is one requirement that they have to meet which is that they must have a real interest in growing their business within the rail industry while supporting it. It was noted that the Rail Alliance, operating as a larger team would enhance the way in which leading research and development and innovation is accessed as well as improve the opportunities that relate to engagement and collaboration. This has been considered to be an interesting offer that brings with it a huge number of opportunities for all areas of the rail supply industry.

This brings with it a real chance for the rail industry, as well as SMEs to bring together a team that consists of talent and world-leading capabilities that span a huge number of research areas while making use of industry expertise and knowledge.

The head of rail at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has stated that the Rail Alliance and BCRRE joining forces only serves to bolster the BEIS’ Industrial Strategy agenda. This assists with bringing together the innovative thinking of the SME community with the academic and scientific knowledge of BCRRE as well as the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network.

 

 

 

 

 

HS2 Colne Valley Viaduct – Ecological Work Challenge Overturned by Government

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The decision by a council to reject HS2’s application to build an ecological mitigation site around the Colne Valley Viaduct has been overturned by the government. The ecological work had been given the go ahead following the council refusing permission, however, Chris Grayling and James Brokenshire broke the news to Hillingdon Council and HS2.

The application for permission to undertake environmental mitigation works was made previously by HS2 to the council as they prepared to construct a 3.4km viaduct in the Colne Valley. Work already carried out around the valley has already been criticised by local politicians, residents and campaign groups with demonstrations taking place on the site since 2017.

The application was rejected by the council on the grounds that insufficient information had been provided by HS2 regarding the archaeological work that was going to be undertaken.

The claim made by the council was backed by an independent panel planning inspector where it was found that HS2 had not provided enough information on the ecology work but also that archaeological aspect of the work. However, the transport and communities secretary have stepped up and overturned the rejection made by the council, indicating that there was no basis for the approval of the application to be refused.

The letter said “They hereby allow HS2’s appeal and approve the Schedule 17 application for the creation of the Colne Valley Viaduct South Embankment wetland habitat ecological mitigation, comprising earthworks and fencing.”

It is still possible for Hillingdon council to make a request for a judicial review of the decision made by the government. The site is due to be built around the viaduct and it will included a mitigation pond, reptile basking bank, two retreats for hibernating animals and fencing.

Many calls have been made for the HS2 work around the Colne Valley Viaduct to be scrapped with many demonstrators chaining themselves to machinery and trees as a way of disrupting the work.

Just over a year ago, over 30 different protest incidents had occurred and so, the DfT was given an injunction to prevent protestors from protesting on the site. However, just a few months ago, campaigners still managed to stop work as they chained themselves to chimney pieces.

 

Leicestershire to be Included in Midland Main Line Electrification

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The DFT has confirmed that Leicestershire is to be included in the electrification of the Midland Main Line. Rail Minister, Andrew Jones has confirmed that Network Rail has been instructed to extend the electrification from Kettering to Market Harborough station. This extension means that bi-mode trains will be able to run on the line and so, the connection is believed to offer value for money.

For many months, cases have been put forward for this electrification extension to take place and now that they have agreed, it is a move forward in the right direction, with detailed designs being drawn up. If the electrification is successful, it will mean that trains are quieter are more eco-friendly as diesel trains will not be stopping and starting from Harborough. There will also be an improvement in journey times and so, the electrification will bring with it many benefits.

There have been calls form politicians requesting that Chris Grayling overturns the decision to stop electrification at Kettering from the beginning because they felt that it would put the East Midlands at a disadvantage. Currently, millions of pounds have been spent on adapting railway bridges throughout Leicestershire to ensure that they can accommodate the overhead cabling that is used to provide electrification.

The announcement was welcomed by the Railway Industry Association where they believe that the decision proves just how important it is for electrification to offer an optimal solution for those railways that are used intensively.

The Director of Midlands Connect has said that extending the electrification of the Midland Main Line from Kettering and into the national grid supply point at Market Harborough is a move in the right direction as it provides the East Midlands with the rail infrastructure that it desperately needs.

Following this, there will also be steps taken to extend electrification to Leicester, Toton and Nottingham in order to help support Midlands Connect’s target of direct conventional compatible HS2 service between Leicester and Leeds as well as Leeds and Nottingham via Toton.

Based on the current plan, there will be an additional 85 miles of electrified line that will be quiet and cleaner. There will be 65 miles where diesel operates and then a move back to electricity for 22 miles north of Alfreton where HS2 will come in to support Chesterfield and Sheffield.

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