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Armitt cracks whip to drive through new efficiency

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NETWORK RAIL boss John Armitt said he was looking to boost track renewal efficiency by up to six times in a bid to reduce future disruption to train services from engineering work.

In an interview with NCE Armitt said that in future contractors would have to complete more work in shorter possessions and face tougher penalties if track failed to reopen on time.

'We are under pressure to provide a better Sunday service, handing back the railway at midday on Sunday and not 4am on Monday morning, ' he explained.

'We need to address how we divide by six, at the extreme, the number of hours to do something - how do we go from 50 hours to do something to eight hours over the next three of four years.' Armitt said better planning by contractors was needed to avoid the 'extremely embarrassing' Monday morning engineering overruns. 'We are not absolutely sure that the contractors feel that embarrassment and pain in the same way that we do, ' he said. 'We will be looking at them to see how we can get better incentives.' Armitt's comments follow the recent decision by Network Rail to reduce its track renewal framework contractors from six to four. Amey, Balfour Beatty, Carillion, First Engineering, Grant Rail and Jarvis will know by the summer whether their frameworks - worth £100M a year and lasting three to five years - will be renewed (NCE 11 January).

'Looking forward you can see that there is a reduction in track renewals, ' he said, explaining the decision. 'You have to say have we got too many players to give them the critical mass for keeping together strong teams.' However, Armitt emphasised that he had no plans to take track renewals back in house in the same way that he has done with maintenance. But he warned that contractors would have to raise their game to work with him to get more efficient.

'It is not only investment in equipment but in people and processes, ' he said, pointing out that Network Rail spends £700M a year on track renewals.

'What we want is continued commitment and [contractors'] support to get down unit cost.

Costs have got to come down quite some way to meet our targets.'

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