Bris­tol boost

Rail (UK) - - Contents -

Net­work Rail com­pletes track qua­dru­pling to Fil­ton Abbey Wood, fol­low­ing a three-week block­ade.

Rail in­ci­dents in­volv­ing veg­e­ta­tion have risen in­ex­orably over the past few years, a re­port com­mis­sioned by for­mer Rail Min­is­ter Jo John­son has found, with 19,000 in 2017-18 (up from 11,500 in 2009-10) that led to 1,750 train can­cel­la­tions.

At the same time, Net­work Rail’s spend­ing on ex­ter­nal veg­e­ta­tion man­age­ment con­trac­tors has risen from £17.9 mil­lion in 2012-13 to £43m in 2017-18, as the com­pany at­tempts to cut the back­log.

John­son asked John Var­ley last Fe­bru­ary to re­view Net­work Rail’s veg­e­ta­tion man­age­ment, in the light of com­plaints about overzeal­ous tree felling.

Var­ley’s re­port, pub­lished on Novem­ber 28, notes a sig­nif­i­cant back­log of line­side veg­e­ta­tion man­age­ment. It says: “Over­all we have found that while en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sid­er­a­tions are in­cluded to an ex­tent in poli­cies and stan­dards, they are not truly em­bed­ded, and the ap­proach is not bal­anced or con­sis­tent in its im­ple­men­ta­tion. This is driven in part by an over­rid­ing and ap­pro­pri­ate con­cern with safety, and also by pres­sures of cost, com­pli­ance and cul­ture. There is a lack of strate­gic vi­sion and am­bi­tion, and lim­ited ev­i­dence of a cul­ture that val­ues the en­vi­ron­ment as a na­tional as­set.”

Var­ley’s re­port makes six rec­om­men­da­tions, with the first that gov­ern­ment sets NR a clear pol­icy po­si­tion that con­sid­ers land­scape ben­e­fits, pro­vi­sion of wildlife cor­ri­dors, and where any ex­tra fund­ing will come from.

The other rec­om­men­da­tions call on NR to man­age line­sides as val­ued as­sets, put in place ap­pro­pri­ate gov­er­nance in routes and projects, im­prove its com­mu­ni­ca­tions with stake­hold­ers to help them un­der­stand NR’s ap­proach, pub­lish an am­bi­tious vi­sion for its line­sides, and lead a cul­tural change to value na­ture and the en­vi­ron­ment across the com­pany.

Var­ley’s re­search found lit­tle sup­port for NR’s ap­proach to tree felling and veg­e­ta­tion man­age­ment. Train drivers de­scribed it as hap­haz­ard and poor, other rail com­pa­nies said it was poor, and com­mu­nity groups called it de­struc­tive.

Con­trac­tors com­plained that NR’s ap­proach was re­ac­tive and lacked an over­all strat­egy. Even NR’s man­agers at route level de­scribed veg­e­ta­tion man­age­ment as the poor re­la­tion to sig­nalling and track main­te­nance.

Var­ley found that pre­vi­ous rec­om­men­da­tions to ring-fence fund­ing had been ig­nored, with money used on other pri­or­i­ties. He noted that it would cost less than half as much for NR to cut back veg­e­ta­tion and then main­tain it than cut­ting back, let­ting it grow and cut­ting again a few years later.

Re­act­ing to the re­port, Rail Min­is­ter An­drew Jones said: “Net­work Rail al­ready demon­strates good prac­tice in many lo­ca­tions, but it is vi­tal this is mir­rored across the net­work, which is why I have asked the or­gan­i­sa­tion to put to­gether a plan which ad­dresses these is­sues in the next six months. This is about cul­ture change across the or­gan­i­sa­tion as a whole.”

Net­work Rail Chief Ex­ec­u­tive An­drew Haines said: “Over the next six months we will de­velop a costed plan to de­liver the aims and rec­om­men­da­tions of this re­port. We will also im­prove the way we op­er­ate to bet­ter pro­tect nest­ing birds, ready for next year’s breed­ing sea­son.”

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