King’s Cross

ROB MCIN­TOSH, Net­work Rail’s Lon­don North Eastern and East Mid­lands Route MD, tells PAUL STEPHEN and NIGEL HAR­RIS about a year of steady progress on the East Coast Main Line… and his plan to save at least £100m up­grad­ing King’s Cross sta­tion throat

Rail (UK) - - Con­tents -

Net­work Rail Route MD ROB MCIN­TOSH re­it­er­ates the need for in­vest­ment to de­liver greater ECML re­silience.

It’s been ex­actly a year since Net­work Rail Route Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor Rob McIn­tosh graced the pages of RAIL to make a com­pelling case for sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment in the East Coast Main Line ( RAIL 817).

With an am­bi­tious Pub­lic Per­for­mance Mea­sure (PPM) of 90% to reach in 2021 as part of the Vir­gin Trains East Coast ( VTEC) fran­chise, the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing con­di­tion of the line’s 30-year-old sig­nalling, ca­ble, power sup­ply and over­head wir­ing as­sets was begin­ning to con­spire against him.

With­out re­plac­ing in­fra­struc­ture last re­newed or in­stalled dur­ing elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of the ECML in the 1980s, McIn­tosh ar­gued that it would be “naive” to ex­pect PPM to be de­liv­ered to the re­quired level.

Mean­while, he faced the more im­me­di­ate threat of con­tin­u­ous raids on his re­newals bud­get, to the tune of £ 20 mil­lion a year, driven by the need to fund un­bud­geted re­pairs and patch up in­creas­ingly un­re­li­able equip­ment that was rapidly near­ing the end of its de­sign life.

McIn­tosh also re­vealed to RAIL that the ECML was run­ning £10m over bud­get in Sched­ule 8 pay­ments made to op­er­a­tors for the all-too-fre­quent loss of track ac­cess as a re­sult of de-wire­ments and other as­set fail­ures. So, what is the sit­u­a­tion 12 months later? Well, we know that changes to the East Coast fran­chise now mean that a new pub­lic-pri­vate East Coast Part­ner­ship will be oper­at­ing long-dis­tance ser­vices on the ECML from 2020, in­stead of VTEC. But this does not al­ter the fun­da­men­tals of his ar­gu­ment that re­gard­less of the op­er­a­tor, he will con­tinue to hem­or­rhage money if the sta­tus quo re­mains un­changed.

McIn­tosh es­ti­mates that it will cost be­tween £ 2 bil­lion and £4bn to fully re­new as­sets on

Credit must go to the Gov­ern­ment that we got an in­crease in in­vest­ment. I think they un­der­stand that in­vest­ing in rail­ways is im­por­tant for the na­tional econ­omy. Rob McIn­tosh, Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor, Lon­don North Eastern and East Mid­lands Route, Net­work Rail

a line al­most 400 miles long. He there­fore wel­comes the Gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to dig deeper into its pock­ets for the State­ment of Funds Avail­able (SoFA) that was an­nounced in Oc­to­ber 2017.

This con­firmed that NR’s fund­ing will in­crease to £48bn in Con­trol Pe­riod 6 (CP6, April 2019-March 2024), com­pared with the £ 38bn it had to spend in CP5 (April 2014March 2019) - a re­sult made all the more sur­pris­ing af­ter the heavy crit­i­cism sus­tained by NR re­cently over its project plan­ning and cost con­trol, and its un­sat­is­fac­tory de­liv­ery of Great Western elec­tri­fi­ca­tion in par­tic­u­lar.

How much of that £48bn will be made avail­able to McIn­tosh re­mains un­known un­til bud­gets are set at Route level in Oc­to­ber, but he nev­er­the­less feels like he has some cause for op­ti­mism.

He tells RAIL: “NR as a whole was very pleased with what was in the SoFA, and credit must go to the Gov­ern­ment that we got an in­crease in in­vest­ment. I think they un­der­stand that in­vest­ing in rail­ways is im­por­tant for the na­tional econ­omy, and SoFA shows that they are con­fi­dent in NR’s plans for CP6 and that we’ve learned the lessons of CP5.

“Within that, we’ve worked re­ally hard over the last year, build­ing the case for in­vest­ment in the ECML in terms of re­newals. As part of my sub­mis­sion we ba­si­cally set out what needs to be done to get the PPM to the as­pi­ra­tion of 90%, and put to­gether a busi­ness case which will be con­sid­ered by NR HQ as we go through the re­main­der of the strate­gic plan­ning process.”

While fi­nal de­ter­mi­na­tions have yet to be made, McIn­tosh’s calls for in­vest­ment have been re­in­forced by the much louder col­lec­tive voice of the new route su­per­vi­sory board set up for the ECML in Au­gust.

Along­side McIn­tosh, its mem­ber­ship in­cludes VTEC MD David Horne, Grand Cen­tral MD Richard McLean (rep­re­sent­ing Ar­riva), Tran­sPen­nine Ex­press MD Leo Good­win (rep­re­sent­ing FirstGroup), and the Board’s in­de­pen­dent chair­man Sir Gary Ver­ity, who led the suc­cess­ful cam­paign to bring the Tour de France to York­shire in 2014.

McIn­tosh adds: “The su­per­vi­sory board is very use­ful to me now, and our choice of in­de­pen­dent chair­man Sir Gary Ver­ity is ab­so­lutely the right guy be­cause he can bring the par­ties to­gether and help us re­alise what we want for the ECML.

“For this Route, I need some­one who has a vi­sion and some am­bi­tion and who will work with gov­ern­ment to re­lease fund­ing, and there aren’t many peo­ple in the coun­try who are the likes of Sir Gary Ver­ity.”

In the mean­time, McIn­tosh and his team con­tinue to op­er­ate as­sets that are not get­ting any younger, while de-wire­ments re­main a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem with one oc­cur­ring on av­er­age ev­ery six weeks.

McIn­tosh is pleased to ac­tu­ally re­port a slightly im­proved per­for­mance from a year ago. But this only masks the un­der­ly­ing fragility of the in­fra­struc­ture, he says, and is tes­ta­ment to the skill of his main­te­nance staff rather than any in­di­ca­tion that the prob­lems of 2016 have mag­i­cally be­gun to go away.

“We have en­joyed an im­proved year this year, but the in­fra­struc­ture re­mains very frag­ile. As a Route, we’re over 100,000 min­utes ahead of our an­nual de­lay at­tri­bu­tion so far, which is about 16% bet­ter than we planned to be.

“The in­fra­struc­ture hasn’t re­ally changed, but we’ve been much more fo­cused on our main­te­nance back­log and, as a con­se­quence, our in­ci­dent count con­tin­ues to come down. The over­head line is still com­ing down, although not as fre­quently as last year, and we’ve in­vested £15m emer­gency fund­ing to re­in­force the OLE.

“It’s in­cred­i­ble that my team has man­aged to keep the OLE go­ing in the way they have done, but it’s not sus­tain­able. To main­tain per­for­mance and fran­chise as­pi­ra­tions we must get this in­vest­ment.”

In ad­di­tion to the pre­vi­ous fran­chise com­mit­ments made to VTEC, the

It’s in­cred­i­ble that my team has man­aged to keep the OLE go­ing in the way they have done, but it’s not sus­tain­able. To main­tain per­for­mance and fran­chise as­pi­ra­tions we must get this in­vest­ment. Rob McIn­tosh, Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor, Lon­don North Eastern and East Mid­lands Route, Net­work Rail

ECML is also be­ing pre­pared by NR to ac­com­mo­date sig­nif­i­cant timetable changes and in­creases in traf­fic over the next five years.

This means that not only must McIn­tosh con­tinue to fight his cor­ner for in­vest­ment in re­newals, he must also over­see a suite of en­hance­ments re­quired to in­crease ca­pac­ity on the line.

At the top of this list is the up­graded power sup­ply which is ap­proach­ing com­ple­tion on the south­ern half of the ECML (PSU1). This is needed to sup­port the in­tro­duc­tion in De­cem­ber of new In­ter­city Ex­press Pro­gramme Azuma trains op­er­ated by VTEC, and new Thames­link ser­vices that will start run­ning to Peterborough and Cam­bridge in May.

Speak­ing be­fore the an­nounce­ment that the East Coast Part­ner­ship would suc­ceed VTEC in 2020, McIn­tosh ex­plains: “We make a big timetable change for Thames­link in May 2018 and although we don’t go to 24tph straight­away [through the Thames­link core], we de­liver a timetable which en­ables 24tph. PSU1 was de­liv­ered slightly early and, although we have to fin­ish it, will prob­a­bly come in un­der bud­get.

“We also have the changes for North­ern and the Great North Rail Project in May, which is an ex­tra 1,200 ser­vices a week. We know that will bring huge per­for­mance chal­lenges be­cause of the ex­tra ser­vices it will bring onto

my Route, added to the in­creases that will come ev­ery year af­ter that.

“If you then go to De­cem­ber 2018 and De­cem­ber 2019, we will go to 24tph through the Thames­link core that will run through Canal Tun­nels and on to the ECML. You then go to De­cem­ber 2021 when we will have a 25% in­crease in VTEC ser­vices, and then 2022 when we are cur­rently plan­ning on a step change for the trans-Pen­nine up­grade.”

Fur­ther ca­pac­ity in­creases will be driven by a trio of en­hance­ments that are needed to re­lieve crit­i­cal bot­tle­necks: the in­stal­la­tion of a fourth track be­tween Wood­wal­ton and Hunt­ing­don; the con­struc­tion of a grade-sep­a­rated junc­tion at Wer­ring­ton (north of Peterborough); and the re­mod­elling of King’s Cross sta­tion throat. All are ex­pected to be de­liv­ered by De­cem­ber 2021.

While the £ 237m as­set re­newal and ra­tio­nal­i­sa­tion around King’s Cross has been given the go-ahead for Jan­uary 2021 (see Net­work News, pages 6-7), both the Wood­wal­ton and Wer­ring­ton projects are at GRIP 4 (sin­gle op­tion de­vel­op­ment) in NR’s eight-stage Gov­er­nance for Rail­way In­vest­ment Projects process, and are await­ing fi­nal ap­proval by the Depart­ment for Trans­port un­der a new sys­tem for CP6 whereby fund­ing for en­hance­ments is re­leased on a case-by-case ba­sis.

Hav­ing re­duced the cost of King’s Cross by at least£100m (see be­low), we must now wait a lit­tle longer to find out if McIn­tosh can de­liver a sim­i­lar scale of cost re­duc­tions to the re­main­ing projects - per­haps in­clud­ing a much sought-af­ter full route mod­erni­sa­tion.

He adds: “DfT owns the busi­ness cases for those ECML in­vest­ments which have now been ap­proved. Our job now is to come up with a suite of in­ter­ven­tions that meet the costs within those busi­ness cases. King’s Cross is now in flight and will be the first re­lease of ca­pac­ity, and Wer­ring­ton and Wood­wal­ton both went through GRIP 3 (op­tion se­lec­tion) last sum­mer.

“The busi­ness case is there al­ready, so this is about fin­ish­ing the de­vel­op­ment for th­ese jobs and we’re mov­ing at an in­cred­i­ble pace. A lack of ro­bust ap­pli­ca­tion of GRIP 3 has cost NR dearly in this Con­trol Pe­riod, so we’re now find­ing a way to get those costs back in line with the busi­ness case, and we need to get that right be­fore we move into the de­liv­ery phase.”


VTEC 91103 passes Broad Fen Lane, near Clay­pole (Lin­colnshire), on March 15 2017, form­ing the 1505 King’s Cross-Leeds ser­vice.


The im­age taken from NR’s 3D BIM model shows how the re­mod­elled sta­tion throat at King’s Cross will look to the im­me­di­ate north of the plat­form ends, with Gas­works Tun­nel in the dis­tance.

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