Network Rail’s Wessex Route Managing Director BECKY LUMLOCK describes her first year in the job to PAUL STEPHEN
“Lumlock was never far from the action during the partial closure - she could even be found handing out free ice creams to passengers, alongside colleagues who had volunteered to work extra shifts.”
It’s fair to say that Becky Lumlock is one of the more conspicuous of Network Rail’s eight Route Managing Directors. Conspicuous in her gender, conspicuous in her remit, and conspicuous in the career path that has led her to NR.
Lumlock was the only female RMD until Meliha Duymaz’s recent appointment at Anglia. Meanwhile, her Wessex route contains both Britain’s busiest station ( Waterloo handles more than 100 million passenger journeys each year) and one of Europe’s most intensively used commuter networks.
Perhaps the most significant differentiating factor, however, is that Lumlock is no ‘career railwayman’. Until November 2016, when she joined NR, she had operated exclusively in the oil and gas industry ever since joining BG Group’s graduate programme in 1994 (see panel).
Most recently she was MD at Shell’s Dragon Liquefied Natural Gas facility in Wales, where she was responsible for infrastructure that sends out up to 7.6 billion cubic metres of gas into the national network per annum.
Clearly well-versed in dealing with high volumes, she currently has responsibility for infrastructure that carries more than 2,000 trains per day and has 234 million passenger journeys each year.
But contrary to her lack of experience in railway management, Lumlock’s immersion in the world of oil and gas has proven to be her ace card - Network Rail is increasingly being repositioned to emulate the strengths of infrastructure managers in allied sectors such as this.
NR Chairman Sir Peter Hendy, Chief Executive Mark Carne and Infrastructure Projects MD Dr Francis Paonessa have all previously presented gas and oil as an exemplar industry from a health and safety perspective, and from which valuable lessons can be imported to rail.
Through Lumlock, NR can tap directly into this expertise. She also provides an interesting and valuable outsider’s perspective to an organisation that is eager to adopt more commercial behaviours, and to become more outwardly facing in the search for third party investment.
NR can therefore only benefit from adding newer heads to the mix, as can a wider industry that Lumlock admits has already begun to feel like home.
“It was a really exciting opportunity to come to NR, and I’ve loved it,” she tells RAIL.
“It’s also been very interesting to meet such a large number of people who’ve told me ‘I only joined British Rail for three months, and 30 years later I’m still here’.
“There’s certainly something to be said for the railway getting under your skin, as it makes such a big difference to so many millions of people. And there aren’t too many professions you can talk about in that context.
“What’s been particularly helpful from being in the oil and gas industry is the safety aspect. There’s absolutely nothing more important than people and passengers going home safe.”
She adds: “In my second week in the job I did my personal trackside safety course, so that I could understand what the majority of my team face every day. The first comparison I can immediately draw with oil and gas is that it’s unusual to be directly in the line of fire quite as often as people are on our railway.
“But if we never put people in that situation we’d have to close the railway a lot more of the time, so for me it’s about keeping people out of that line of fire as much as possible to reduce the risk. And we can never rest until that risk is zero.”
Lumlock has already had her fair share of risk management, with the ‘Orange Army’ hard at work on her patch at London Waterloo - the station underwent a once-in-ageneration capacity upgrade in August, when a partial blockade took ten of the terminal’s 19 platforms out of use for 23 days.
More than 1,000 extra staff were deployed across the Wessex Route to assist passengers during the three-and-a-half-week blockade, while the station’s 275,000 daily users were advised to use different stations, take holiday or work from home.
NR also resorted to bringing in a temporary timetable, while Waterloo’s five former international platforms were also brought back into use to try to mitigate the effects of the domestic platform closures.
Lumlock was never far from the action during the partial closure - she could even be found handing out free ice creams to passengers, alongside colleagues who had volunteered to work extra shifts during the morning and evening peaks.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, a 1,000-strong team from Network Rail and the Wessex Capacity Alliance worked more than 180,000 hours to extend four platforms
and complete the necessary trackwork to accommodate ten-car trains, which will help to provide a 30% increase in capacity by December 2018.
Lumlock says the scale, duration and complexity of the project provides a strong benchmark for the execution and management of future disruptive possessions on the network. This means her experiences will be in much demand from her fellow Route MDs, to whom she is more than happy to offer sage advice.
“There’s been tremendous support from throughout NR, and a lot of empathy from other Route MDs who provide me with a really strong support network. They are a fantastic bunch who each have their own piece of the jigsaw, but we try and put them together the best we can.
“There are some fantastic lessons being learned and shared from Waterloo, and that’s quite remarkable at this level of seniority, in my experience. I’m sharing what didn’t go well as well as what did go well, such as the communications campaign that was started very early on to warn passengers about the disruption.
“That in large part led to not having the overcrowding and congestion that people were very worried about. We also had robust contingency plans in place with other stakeholders that largely didn’t have to be enacted, because our passengers listened to the range of different mediums that the campaign was run on.”
The upgrade programme was not without its hitches, however. The handback on August 29 was marred by over-running, caused by safetycritical signal testing.
And while the station officially fully reopened at 0650, there was widespread disruption during the morning rush hour as only 14 of Waterloo’s 19 domestic platforms were initially in service until later in the day.
Further delays were caused the following day, when Platforms 1-3 were briefly closed again for a track circuit failure. And a fortnight earlier on August 15, the derailment of an early commuter train that had come into contact with a stationary freight train in the station throat had caused 48 hours of disruption - three platforms were blocked, in addition to the ten that were under blockade.
Unsurprisingly, Lumlock regrets the added disruption. However, she says it should not detract from the enormous amount of work that was completed during the 23-day
What’s been particularly helpful from being in the oil and gas industry is the safety aspect. There’s absolutely nothing more important than people and passengers going home safe. Becky Lumlock, Managing Director, Network Rail Wessex Route
period, including 1,270 metres of track laid, 230 cubic metres of pre-cast concrete installed, and seven miles of new cable.
“We’d have loved to have had the handback on time and to have gone from zero to 100% overnight, so we did feel some disappointment,” she adds. “But against the backdrop of what’s been achieved and the complexity of the project, being three hours late was disappointing, but we should think about what was actually achieved - and full credit to the team that delivered it.
“It was a shame [to over-run] and it took the shine off what a great achievement it has been. And yes, of course we would never have chosen to inconvenience passengers as a result of that, but it was an extremely complex project.”
Looking ahead, Waterloo’s former international platforms have now closed again before they reopen on a permanent basis in December 2018. Lumlock is looking forward to when Waterloo’s 30% capacity increase will be fully realised, and a £ 800 million upgrade that began in April 2016 spanning the entire route will officially be brought to a close.
“Longer trains are already starting across the network, and there are more and more of them as we get closer to Christmas, which is great to see. By the end of next year, there will be the permanent reopening of a further five platforms in Waterloo International. I think when that opens as a purpose-built and proper commuter terminal fit for the 21st century, it will be hugely exciting.
“This is one of the busiest routes and the UK’s busiest station by some margin, and the project we did in August is going to help with a lot of that need for extra capacity.
“A 30% increase in capacity means an extra 45,000 passengers in the morning and evening peak, and so for us it’s very much about keeping our passengers and staff safe while achieving the best performance we can on a congested route where passenger numbers are ever growing. That is the key challenge that we’re keen to absolutely stay on top of.”
A 30% increase in capacity means an extra 45,000 passengers in the morning and evening peak, and so for us it’s very much about keeping our passengers and staff safe while achieving the best performance we can on a congested route where passenger numbers are ever growing. Becky Lumlock, Managing Director, Network Rail Wessex Route
Key to meeting that challenge will also be the level of co-ordination between Lumlock’s team and principal customer South Western Railway, which commenced its franchise on August 20 midway during the Waterloo upgrade.
She says that her team will work in close alliance with SWR, just as it did with previous franchise incumbent South West Trains. She also intends to set up a Wessex Route Supervisory Board by the end of 2017.
Just like the supervisory boards that were set up earlier this year for the Wales, Western and London & North Eastern routes, the board will be independently chaired and feature senior representation from Transport Focus and other train operators. NR has committed to having them in place across each of its eight geographic-based route businesses by spring 2018, in order to bring track and train operations closer together, and to encourage more aligned decision-making.
Lumlock explains: “We were unable to be the first route to have a supervisory board because we had a major franchise change, but we’re currently looking for an independent chairman and I’ll be liaising with key stakeholders who would sit on that. I’d like to have everything in place by the end of the year.
“Right from day one of the new franchise we have continued the alliance with SWR, and the joint executive team that still meets every Monday morning. To me that’s critically important, because the first thing we talk about is safety and safety incidents. Secondly, we talk about train performance, and then projects and growth.
“That sort of drumbeat every week with track and train together is really critical, and we have four areas in the alliance where we have joint teams - performance, station management, control and planning. Every month we also have a performance board meeting for two to three hours where we challenge each other on our train performance improvement plans.
“But I can chat to them any time about how it’s going with their crew and fleet management. And likewise, we chat about how renewals are going, and track faults, and whatever else.”
If anyone had any doubts about Lumlock’s commitment to improving both the Public Performance Measure and overall customer satisfaction on the route, her pay packet is now dependent not only on NR’s performance, but also that of her primary customer SWR, which has been adopted as a key metric.
She credits Network Rail’s ongoing internal transformation and the greater level of autonomy that now exists at route level for giving her the manoeuvrability to enter into such a mutually beneficial arrangement, which should ultimately lead to improved outcomes for passengers.
“When we set the route scorecard, I said that I wanted to put SWR’s customer satisfaction on my own scorecard which I get judged on, and on which my remuneration is based. This sent a very strong message because they realised how serious we are about how train performance is doing and customer satisfaction.
“Without devolution you couldn’t do that, because you couldn’t have the scorecard as focused on your key customers. It’s on all the other Route scorecards, too, but with different levels of satisfaction custom-made to what their customers want.
“That’s quite revolutionary for NR to have that sort of flexibility. A few years ago that simply wouldn’t have been the case.”
South Western Railway 444040 arrives at East Putney on September 4 in new SWR livery. The new franchise commenced on August 20 and will run until at least 2024. EIKI SEKINE.
Becky Lumlock’s Wessex Route hosted one of the most prominent rail engineering projects in recent years when Waterloo was partially closed for 23 days in August. Four platforms were extended to accommodate ten-car trains, as seen here on August 8. PAUL BIGLAND.