Network Rail’s plans deemed ‘robust’ by regulator’s consultants
Network Rail’s emerging plans to operate, maintain and renew the rail network between 2019 and 2024 are ‘robust’, according to independent risk and assurance experts Nichols, working on behalf of the Office of Rail and Road.
ORR called in Nichols to check NR’s spending plans for Control Period 6 on a route-by-route basis and the consultant reports finding them ‘clear, consistent and well-developed’. It looked at maintenance plans in five of NR’s eight geographic routes, operations plans in three routes and 14 renewals plans covering track, signalling, electrification and plant, structures, earthworks, drainage and buildings.
For operations, Nichols reported that NR had developed clear and transparent targets with its stakeholders and that it understood what it needed to do to meet these targets. However, it called for more consistent links between staff numbers and operational strategy, particularly to provide a rapid response to busy areas, so-called ‘hot spots’.
While maintenance plans are clear in terms of unit costs for around 550 standard job types, and the volume of work, Nichols called for more work to discover the costs of non-productive time. This included factors such as travel time to a job, set-up time and the cost of work in terms of delays to trains.
NR has well-developed plans for renewals according to knowledge of asset condition as well as safety and performance standards. Nichols found workbanks were based on achievable outcomes and had been planned in conjunction with the right stakeholders. It said that NR’s workbanks were based on safe railway operation by using smallscale, like-for-like in modern form renewals rather than large-scale projects.
Nichols described renewals budgets as realistic, with NR having built them using real cost information from previous work, allowing route asset managers to consider local and national unit rates. The consultant suggests NR does more to explain how and why it decides on a particular rate.
Nichols’ work is part of ORR’s process of deciding what NR needs to spend to efficiently and safely operate, maintain and renew the rail network in Control Period 6 to meet the expectations of funders (the Department for Transport and Transport Scotland) as well as train and freight operators. Having decided what NR needs to spend and taken account of government funding, ORR can calculate the charges operators must pay. ORR expects to publish its draft conclusions next autumn, followed by its final conclusions early in 2019 for the new charges to take effect from that April.