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Infrastructure in 2014: UK's rail will change for the better

Network Rail has some ambitious targets as it heads into its next five-year spending period.

In April next year, Network Rail will embark on one of the longest sustained periods of investment the railway has seen, delivering by 2019 perhaps the greatest increase in capacity for 100 years.

My part of the business, infrastructure projects, will be responsible for enhancement schemes worth in excess of £12bn between 2014 and 2019, or Control Period 5 (CP5). The increase in work equates to £600M extra investment a year compared with the previous control period.

Train tracks

Five-year control periods allow a greater degree of certainty over investment than was traditionally the case with the rail industry - witness the perennial challenge facing some other client organisations, whose budgets are decided year on year - and as a result we can work more closely with our suppliers and offer them a consistent work bank. This has important implications for an industry where skills are at a premium, and with the large scale of work coming up, managing the workforce across Network Rail and our suppliers will form a crucial part of the next five years.

So what of 2014? Our plan is to procure 65% of the CP5 work bank by April, rising to 85% by the following year. That’s a lot of work to be done before we even leave CP4, but this commitment means our suppliers can plan ahead and start building towards delivery.

Among the major contracts to be let in the coming months are track contracts for both switches and crossings and plain line as well as our electrification framework and regional frameworks.

Worth around £2bn, the electrification framework will see overhead wires erected, along with the associated power supplies, on the Great Western Main Line and the start of work on Midland Main Line, which will continue into CP6.

Over the course of CP5, 60% of all contracts will be frameworks, with 27% as alliances and the rest put out to competitive tendering. The rise in importance of framework agreements reflects our desire to work more closely with fewer suppliers, in an effort to share risk and offer increasing value for money.

We are building more long-term relationships with suppliers, and the ability to plan ahead effectively is crucial in achieving the aim of delivering more output with greater efficiency.

We will also be continuing our focus on safety - and I cannot emphasise enough how much time Network Rail spends looking at that aspect. We have achieved a lot in improving our safety standards, but we can and must do more. The strides made by the oil and gas industries clearly show that. Our target is to have no reporting of injuries, diseases or dangerous occurrences (RIDDORS) by the end of CP5.

Managing the workforce across Network Rail and our suppliers will form a crucial part of the next five years

We’ve already introduced the 11 Life Saving Rules, which have been enthusiastically taken up by our suppliers, and we will continue to focus relentlessly on close calls and the cause of those issues.

As with delivering value for money, we know the best way to achieve greater safety is engagement with our supply chain. Of course that works in both directions, and we will be continuing to do all we can to improve our transparency and openness to the people who want to work with us.

  • Simon Kirkby is directory, infrastructure projects, Network Rail

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