Cost Gap HS2 and Contractors

HS2 is Proof That The Funding System is in a Bad Shape

Deborah Lillis

The ever-increasing cost of HS2 is proof that there are significant issues with financial management in the UK and that it also affects further investment in infrastructure, a claim made by Rob Whitemane, the Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy.

While HS2 is supposedly a new chapter in the future of the UK transport system it is also a hindrance in the way that the cost has spiralled out of control. This proves that the government needs to take a change in its approach to infrastructure.

As a result, it is believed that the government should focus on the outcome instead of delivery at the lowest possible price. As a result, HS2 is a clear example of the management issues that are causing problems in investment. Along with this, the Chancellor has also said that the Budget will bring with it a turning point in relation to spending on public service. Therefore, it is not about short-term injections of cash but more about the way in which the government evaluates infrastructure investment and manages it.

MECX Rail Vegetation Team Remove Precarious Tree

Deborah Lillis

MECX specialist Vegetation Management Team were asked to carry out an emergency job for Network Rail in Baschurch. A silver birch which displayed rot was leaning precariously over the tracks. Our on site team were instructed to remove this tree as it posed a serious risk to the infrastructure. It was a complex job due to the high winds being experienced. Line blocks were taken by the team and they used all of their skillsets to successfully dismantle the tree and remove the impending risk.

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Alstom Take Over Bombardier

Deborah Lillis

Train builder Bombardier is soon to be taken over by French company Alstom.

Bombardier already employs around 2,000 people in the UK at its Derby factory while it also has several maintenance depots located around the country.

Following the release of its statement, Alstom has confirmed that it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Bombardier Inc. and Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec as they begin to acquire Bombardier Transportation. After the transaction has taken place, Alstom will have a backlog of around €75bn as well as revenues of approximately €15.5bn. The cost of acquiring all of Bombardier Transportation shares will range from €5.8bn to €6.2bn and this will be covered through cash and new Alstom shares.

The chairman and CEO of Alstom, Henri Poupart-Lafarge has said they the acquisition is a very proud moment and that it gives them a chance to enhance their position globally, at a time when the mobility market is growing. Therefore, the acquisition will improve their reach and their ability to respond to the demands for sustainable mobility.

What this will offer Alstrom is a presence globally as well as a foothold in many growing markets as well as technological platforms. As a result, they can work more innovatively, while also improving both smart and green innovations. Therefore, the company is looking forward to welcoming all of the Bombardier workforce while also looking to add value to stakeholders and customers in particular.

Danny Di Perna, the president of Bombardier Transportation has said that the announcement is welcomed and that they see the product and both the geographical abilities will complement each other. As a result, it will enable the company to meet the growing demand for rail on a global scale. As green and digital rail solutions form the next generation of the rail industry, they are committed to meeting these changes and so, through improved investment innovation capabilities, the company will have the chance to deliver on a new level.

The takeover will need to be approved at an Extraordinary General Meeting by the end of October 2020 but the indications are already there that the deal will be agreed. Regulators will also need to approve the transaction but the deal should be completed by the middle of 2021.

West Midlands Trains Receives Government Action.

Deborah Lillis

As a result of poor services and bad experiences for passengers, the Transport secretary Grant Shapps has requested that West Midlands Trains invests an additional £20m to make improvements.

As a result, this funding will improve the experience for passengers in relation to timetables and new train drivers to help deal with staff shortages. What’s more, there will also be discounts on season tickets and off-peak fares as a way of compensating for the dire service they have received.

This is a clear indication that the Department for Transport is aiming to take action on those operators who fall way below the expected standards when it comes to performance and the way in which it has an impact on passengers. Along with this, action will also be taken should they fail to meet their contractual obligations.

Therefore, the £20m will be used to:

  • Give compensation to passengers through a 3% discount on season ticket renewals.
  • Make improvements to the timetable, with changes in place for May 2020 and December 2020
  • Employ additional conductors as well as drivers to help deal with the staff shortages
  • Invest in day to day operations in order to create a more reliable service

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “One of my priorities is getting the trains to run on time, and as a commuter myself I understand all too well the frustration caused by endless delays and cancellations.

“West Midlands Trains have failed to fulfil their obligations – to their franchise agreement and, most importantly, to their passengers. The action we’re taking means they must invest in rapidly improving services so that passengers have reliable, punctual trains they can rely on.”

The Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris has monitored the performance of West Midlands Trains and is concerned and so, the action is being taken as a way of ensuring they fulfil their commitments so that passengers get the service they expect and deserve.

The delays have become frequent and passengers are being constantly let down by poor service, all of which has to be put right. As a result, the trains must run on time as a rule and not the exception. Despite all of this, this is a warning that other operators should take notice of.



rail infrastructure specialist

Government to Take Control of Northern From March 2020

Deborah Lillis

Northern has had its fair share of problems but from March 1 2020, the government will take control following the announcement from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

Following years of significant disruptions, the government have called it unacceptable and has acknowledged that passengers have suffered for too long, ultimately losing their trust in the rail network in the north.

The May timetable changes in 2018 caused problems for Northern and passengers who have used the rail franchise have suffered from constant delays and cancellations to services.

A letter was sent to Parliament from Mr Shapps explaining the decisions and it stated: “Wherever you live, you deserve a railway that widens your children’s horizon, gives you access to highly-skilled, highly paid jobs, and provides a viable green alternative to getting in your car.

“For too long, millions of rail passengers in the north of England have not had that. They have had to start and end their working day facing cancellations and delays. Some stations, particularly on Sundays, have been left without trains for hours on end.

“It’s no surprise that passengers have lost trust in the north’s rail network. The service provided by the rail network in the north has failed to meet the needs of passengers. People across the north deserve better, their communities deserve better and I am determined to achieve that.”

So, from March 1 2020, the Northern franchise will be controlled by the public sector operator which is also known as the operator of last resort, all of which is owned completely by the Department for Transport. As it currently stands, the operator already owns and controls another franchise in the UK, East Coast which is known as London North Eastern Railway (LNER). Since it took over operating the service 19 months ago, customer satisfaction has increased considerably and so Mr Shapps has stated that this is a new beginning for Northern. However, he also made it clear that there is a lot of work to be done if they are to put things right and that it won’t be a quick fix. Despite this, the determination is clear to see as they aim to turn things around and give passengers a service they can be proud of once again.

Leaked Report Shows Cost of HS2 Could Rise to £106 Billion

Deborah Lillis

The fast-approaching release of the Oakervee Review into HS2 has been thrown into confusion after a copy of the report was leaked, indicating that the cost of HS2 could rise to £106 billion. As of last summer, the original budget was £55.7 billion and this including an array of contingency margins.

However, the figure then went up to £78 billion when the new figure was revealed by the transport secretary Grant Shapps. To add to the misery, the construction timetable, which also included the opening of Phase 1 between London and Birmingham in 2026 was not likely to happen and these dates were then altered so that the project could be delivered in stages between 2028 and 2031.

Boris Johnson commissioned the Oakervee Review but a copy has been leaked and it apparently shows a small level of support for the HS2 scheme while also making recommendations that relate to the Phase 2 beyond Birmingham whereby it should be put on hold while other options, such as replacing HS2 with classic lines towards Manchester and Leeds are considered.

At the moment, the future of the project still hangs in the balance as 15 Conservative MPs are pushing for the project to be permanently abandoned. Despite this, Claire Walker, the co-executive director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce has said that the project has to go ahead.

She believes that the project unites business communities and that the project as a whole will bring with it significant changes to the business in the north. Along with this, many of the big construction companies are warning the Prime Minister that abandoning the project will bring with it terrible consequences whereby the industry would suffer from irreparable damage and it could hold back any growth that the industry would have seen in any of the regions. Several days ago, Grant Shapps made it clear that the future of HS2 and the decision should be expected very soon while the end of January will see the release of the HS2 progress report from the National Audit Office.




Flying Banana Train – £8m contract Awarded by Network Rail

Deborah Lillis

Known as the Flying Banana, the measuring train will now be maintained by Loram UK as part of a five-year contract worth £8m. The contract was awarded back in December after a number of competitors put themselves forward. However, Loram UK will maintain the distinctive yellow train at its Derby facility.

This depot has been used since 2010 where other infrastructure monitoring trains have been maintained. This New Measurement Train is designed to monitor and record the condition of the track at speeds of up to 125mph, making it the fastest train within the monitoring fleet of Network Rail. It will also identify faults on the track in order to prevent them from becoming a serious safety concern or even affect the performance of the network.

The train is packed with high-tech measurement systems and systems that scan the tracks along with high-resolution cameras. The train is a converted Intercity high-speed train that has already travelled across the railway network for 15 years.

As the train can travel at high speeds, it means that it has the ability to cover significant distances in a single shift and over the course of the year, it covers 115,000 miles. Every 440 miles, it also captures 10TB of image data. This data is then used by engineers, enabling them to make repairs and schedule in maintenance.

As part of the infrastructure monitoring fleet operating contract, Loram UK finishes a three-month project on the New Measurement Train coaches in December. This process of overhauling the coaches takes place every four years and requires engineers to dismantle the train in its entirety, carrying out tests on all parts before making all relevant fixes and improvements before putting the train back together.

The supply chain services director of Network Rail, Mike Black has said that the contract simplifies the maintenance of the New Measurement Train. As a result, Network Rail will benefit from large savings as well as the taxpayer. What’s more, it will also ensure that the train is always maintained to the highest possible standards, enabling it to monitor the network to ensure that passengers and other railway users can travel safely.



Crossrail Institutional Problems Caused by Volume of Contracts

Deborah Lillis

According to an Arup Director, institutional problems with the Crossrail projects was caused by the number of contracts in place at their sites. This was highlighted by the number of contractors at Liverpool Street alone which stood at five.

This was not the fault of the contractors but it left the projects facing disjointed working and risks were not controlled. This meant that problems were blamed on others and this caused a range of institutional problems that spiralled out of control. In fact, the problems were seen across the 36 main contracts.

The line, which was due to open in December 2018 has still not opened and Crossrail Chief Executive Mark Wild has said that the costs will increase and the line will not open until 2020.

Back in August, Crossrail gave an update on the programme and explained that contractor productivity was a risk and an uncertainty. A Jacobs report also gave warnings about the cost, as well as contractor buy-in, being the biggest risk to the delivery of the rail line.

As it currently stands, the support from parliament is slowly disappearing as a result of the increasing costs and the delays of other projects. This dwindling support has been placed on the fact that the first Crossrail project faced challenges and so, with those problems not sorted, it makes things very difficult politically. Along with this, Crossrail 2, which will run from Surrey to Hertfordshire, will need around four times more private funding when compared to the east-west line. The construction cost of the first Crossrail was funded privately, with 25% of the costs being covered by this. However, Crossrail 2 would come to 50% of private funding from a project that is going to cost £29bn.

The project is already struggling both in costings and timings and it seems as though things are going from bad to worse. As far as future funding goes, a Treasury spokesperson has said that the department cannot provide a comment on it. At a time where other projects such as HS2 are coming under fire, it seems as though the UK could do without these problems adding to the mix.

Hydrogen Trains – Are Things Beginning to Move?

Deborah Lillis

The RSSB, the rail industry body has appointed Arup, an engineering consultancy firm to create a route-map where hydrogen-powered trains can be deployed on the mainline in the UK.

This new project will give Arup the opportunity to identify a high-level operational concept while identifying any risks and regulatory obligations. The study will come to a conclusion in February 2020 and will also seek to identify the required standardisation throughout the railway system in the UK should hydrogen trains be deployed.

Along with this, Arup will also look to identify a clear route to market for hydrogen trains as well as the infrastructure, taking into consideration safety and compatibility.

The RSSB has plans to decarbonise the rail sector and the hydrogen trains could help to meet the target. In 2018, the then Transport Minister Jo Johnson set a target to remove all diesel-only trains from the network by 2040

As a result, Hydrogen-powered trains could work alongside electrified rail and battery-powered trains, offering a feasible low carbon alternative to diesel.

There are a number of organisations already working to develop hydrogen rail solutions in the UK. The University of Birmingham is working with Porterbrook and Transport for West Midlands to determine whether it is possible to implement hydrogen refuelling infrastructure at railway depots.

Along with this, the rail operator Abellio has made a commitment to trialling hydrogen-powered trained when it won the East Midlands franchise in April.

In January, Alstom and Evershot Rail released a design for a hydrogen train that could be used within the UK market and this would require the conversion of the current Class 321 passenger trains, giving them the ability to operate on hydrogen. They will only release water and vapour into the atmosphere, helping to reduce Co2 emissions and the harmful emissions that derive from diesel engines.

Germany is already using hydrogen trains, with the equipment being operated by Alstom, which is a French company that manufactures transport equipment.

While rail is already a mode of transport that releases low carbon emissions, there is still room for the industry to reduce it further.

As the UK economy aims to become carbon neutral by 2050, the rail industry can play a significant role in achieving this by utilising hydrogen technology alongside electrification and battery technology.


Virgin Trains Says Goodbye

Virgin Trains is saying goodbye after spending 22 years of moving people around the country. However, in typical Virgin Trains style, the company has released a spoof music video known as the “Final Whistle” and it is set to the Dirty Dancing Track, ‘I’ve Had the Time of my Life”.

What’s more, Richard Branson also adds to the humour as he features in the video which includes famous faces from 1997, when the franchise started, as well as famous faces from 2019.

The entire advert has been created in a tongue-in-cheek style with the advert opening up with Mr Blobby making his first journey on a Virgin Train in 1997. This is where Branson makes his appearance, announcing on the tannoy that the passengers are on a non-stop, final journey from 1997 to 2019.

This is where Branson thanks people for using Virgin Trains before carrying a boombox on his shoulder and transforming the entire train into a music video. This genius advert, takes viewers on a journey through the last 22 years, including 90s fashion, large mobile phones right through to the tech we see today. Some other famous faces include Shaun Williamson, Chris Kamare and Anna Phylactic.

The advert is a clever yet unique approach to saying goodbye following the announcement in April that Virgin Trains would no longer operate its franchise from London Euston to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, North Wales and Edinburgh.

The bid from Virgin Trains was deemed as non-compliant by the Department for Transport because of pension provisions.

This final goodbye campaign as it is called comes at a sad time for the company. However, their aim is to leave in the same way as they came in which is by having fun and there is no doubt that this advert does that brilliantly.

With over two decades of operating, Virgin Trains is proud of how it has delivered its services and felt the need to leave its one final mark for all of those who travelled with the operator through the years.

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