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
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.