the future of rail | Does the Williams-Shapps review signal a brave new world for rail?

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The Williams-Shapps Review publication heralds the start of a railroad overhaul that will shape the industry for the next 30 years and beyond. But questions remain.

The long-awaited publication of Williams-Shapps magazine made waves in the rail industry in May. He revealed that a new company – Great British Railways (GBR) – will combine responsibility for rail infrastructure and train operations for the first time since rail was privatized in the 1990s (see box).

The rail industry has widely welcomed the change. But how exactly its impact will play out remains to be seen, and this uncertainty is compounded by the persistent delay in releasing the government’s integrated rail plan.

Chris Dulake, world leader in railways and transit Mott MacDonald, sees the possibility of a more efficient railroad as a result of the review and its commitments.

“By bringing costs and revenues together in GBR, an overview of the system will signal inefficiencies in current practices and opportunities to reduce costs while achieving the same results.

The publication of the review has been delayed for 18 months to allow the impact of the Covid to be taken into account

“It is expected that there will be savings in [2019 to 2024 rail investment period] CP6 in the order of 15% taking into account all aspects of the implementation of CP6 from a program point of view, ”he says.

“I expect that future projects will seek to standardize products, solutions, types of rolling stock and the number of suppliers in the areas in order to streamline and streamline current practices. “

Likewise, Aecom Europe Managing Director Colin Wood said the review “presents a real opportunity to improve passenger services and infrastructure investments through the integration of track and train.” .

He adds, “To seize the opportunity and make it a success, we need to ensure that the private and public sectors work together to deliver its recommendations. Only then will we achieve the simplification, cross-sector alignment and cost-efficiency that this approach aims to deliver. “

Next steps

An advisory group, led by Network Rail CEO Andrew Haines, will be established to ensure the implementation of the proposals for establishing the GBR set out in the Williams-Shapps review. Haines will be responsible for developing plans to establish interim arrangements from across the industry and beyond, including the rail industry’s trade body Rail Delivery Group, government and Network Rail.

Railway Industry Association chief executive Darren Caplan has expressed concern that the restructuring could result in a halt in railway renewal and improvement work. Wood adds that he has “some reservations about the number of long-term investment decisions that remain within the Department of Transport (DfT)”, with the GBR taking over only part of the DfT’s rail responsibilities.

“Delegation of authority for such investments would lead to a leaner approach, with greater confidence in the pipeline of work and, ultimately, more cost effective infrastructure delivered faster and at a lower price for the taxpayer. He said.

“What I would like to see now is a change that allows the DfT and the Infrastructure Projects Authority to play a more active role by allowing independent public bodies [like Network Rail, Highways England and the Environment Agency] to motivate the supply chain to deliver what is needed.

“This can be achieved through early engagement with stakeholders to promote collaboration and align long-term visions. We also need to simplify governance through greater trust and relationship building between public and private stakeholders, which allows us to accelerate and improve the efficiency of decision-making processes.

For Dulake, it is important to stagger the implementation of the review commitments.

“I don’t think I would disagree with any of the commitments, but there is a logical order to execute them that stems from the evolutionary structure GBR will have in place,” he said. “It will take at least a year or two for GBR to be an effective organization, so there will be a transition and [we don’t yet know] how quickly they can land those engagements. I’m sure they’ll prioritize them as we speak.

Regarding ongoing projects, Dulake says that if these are key parts of infrastructure maintenance, he “would feel sure you would have more money or commitment to deliver.” .

For now, the industry will be waiting to see what the changes look like in practice.

Williams-Shapps review in detail

The rail review was originally commissioned in 2018 after the failure of the East Coast franchise, as well as serious disruption caused by schedule changes in May 2018.

It was finally published more than 18 months later than expected, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps revealed as a co-author alongside British Airways boss Keith Williams who was originally in charge of the review.

Overall, Shapps said the proposed changes were aimed at “expanding the network, not reducing it,” while Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said the reorganization of the rail sector would help simplify the path. iron and eliminate fragmentation.

Haines added, “These changes will take time, but I am determined to get to work quickly with industry and government.

“The pandemic has created significant challenges for the industry and that means the changes we need to make are even more urgent. “

The chief executive of the Office of Rail & Road (ORR), industry regulator, John Larkinson, also welcomed the plan, noting that the ORR “will continue to work closely with government and industry to facilitate reform and reshape rail for the future ”.

A key feature of the review was the news that Network Rail and the functions of the Rail Delivery Group industry trade body and the Department of Transport (DfT) will be absorbed by Great British Railways (GBR).

GBR’s mission includes:

  • implement the government’s railway priorities
  • develop a 30-year strategy with five-year business plans
  • responsibility for safe and efficient operation
  • responsibility for the offer to passengers
  • own and operate stations and infrastructure
  • support the rail freight market and strengthen regional decision-making.

Rail Industry Association (RIA) chief executive Darren Caplan said the review gives “some certainty to the government’s plans for railways to come out of the coronavirus pandemic,” adding that the RIA is encouraged by the fact that it takes a long-term approach.

According to Caplan, this has the potential to “smooth out booms and recessions and provide more safety for rail projects, decarbonize and digitize the network, complete major projects, protect and create jobs, and foster innovation and collaboration between rail partners “.

GBR is expected to generate £ 1.5bn in savings per year after five years. According to the white paper – released following the review – GBR will also play an important role in decarbonizing the entire rail network as part of its 30-year strategy.

North view

Looking ahead, the future of Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) remains one of the big questions for the industry to address.

In February, Transport for the North (TfN) bosses agreed to delay submission of the program’s business case until the publication of the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), which will define how NPR will relate to high speed. 2 (HS2) and other major infrastructure projects.

Former TfN chief executive Barry White said the publication of the IRP will provide insight into the government’s plans for HS2 and how it could fit into NPR. Following the decision, White added that delaying the business case would not “necessarily delay” construction.

A final preferred route for the NPR network has however been agreed. This includes plans to connect Sheffield to HS2 and Leeds.

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