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As director responsible for Railtrack's multi billion pound investment programme, the buck stops with Simon Murray.

As director responsible for Railtrack's multi billion pound investment programme, the buck stops with Simon Murray. His success, or not, in delivering West Coast Route Modernisation, Channel Tunnel Rail Link, Thameslink and - if it comes off - the London Underground subsurface line integration into the Railtrack network, will have a direct impact on Railtrack's future.

Tightly managed schemes delivered on time at radically lower costs will allow Railtrack to earn good margins from selling new train paths, but any problems and the company could start suffering financially.

As Sir Alastair Morton points out Murray's big challenge is to avoid a series of JLE-style pitfalls. Murray is only too well aware where they might be.

'The issues that will determine the sucess of major programmes like CTRL and West Coast are unlikely to be in the civil engineering. They are more likely to be in the complex rail systems for signalling and communication and in software rather than in hardware,' he says.

'It is very important in managing big investment programmes not to be seduced by the civil engineering and become too focused on the actual sites. It is easy to march up and down and view a tunnel under construction when the problem that is going to trip you up is in fact being soldered together in a workshop in Paris.'

Civil engineer Murray joined Railtrack as its director for major projects and investment six months ago from BAA, whose Heathrow Express scheme was nearly scuppered by a very large civil engineering problem (NCE 1 October 1998). But on the whole, he says, modern transport schemes founder when they have not only to work technically, but to demonstrate that they meet safety regulations. That needs to be understood and planned for right from the beginning, Murray says.

Programme management supported by project management is the way to keep control, Murray believes. He met last week with companies hoping to prequalify as framework programme managers - but what is he actually looking for?

'Our investment programmes are groups of projects - some straightforward like track renewal, others complex like signalling. Programme management is about defining the elements of a scheme and technically managing and leading the integration of the interfaces. It requires a strong focus on systems engineering coupled with more traditional project management controls like planning and budgeting.

'We want to put in place framework agreements with a small number of organisations through which we will acquire the skills we need.'

The intention is to set up integrated programme management teams led by Railtrack staff plus people supplied from the framework programme managers.

A wide range of firms turned up at the prequalification meeting, he says. 'I told them I did not expect any one of those companies would have all the skills we are looking for.

'My perception is that a lot of companies out there are simply rebadging project management and offering it as programme management. I have yet to see companies coming from a civils and construction background with the skills and technical competence we are looking for in railways.

'Construction still thinks in terms of getting the elements of a project to fit together, rather than work together, which is what we need.'

One decision taken before Murray's arrival, and certain to have a big impact on project delivery, was to reorganise the main board so there are clear lines of responsibility. Commercial director Richard Middleton became sponsor for the investment programme; Murray - who officially joined the board at the start of the month - took on delivery of the investment programme; and Chris Leah was charged with operating the lines.

Proposed changes in the management of West Coast are a direct result of this quest for clarity (NCE last week). 'An assessment of the project organisation is currently under way and we will have to wait and see what might emerge when it is complete in May,' says Murray.

Murray explains that when he arrived at Railtrack last year it was decided he would take over delivery of WCRM from April - the start of the financial year. 'The project was about to move from development to delivery stage and I thought it was appropriate to take stock with a review, and tighten the organisation ready for full delivery. With Brown & Root and the other suppliers we brought in the consultant Nichols to do the review. Nichols reports in May.

'When you are developing ideas for a scheme you create an organisation which is blurred at the edges. When you know what you are implementing it is time to gain focus and tighten the organisation, and lose parts which are not necessary.

'I wanted to put some sharp edges in. It is a discipline I always use.'

It is a philosophy that is to be applied to more than WCRM.

'I am determined there will be absolute clarity in what Railtrack does and what our suppliers do. We in Railtrack are currently a long way from that: one of my big challenges is to work with our organisation in major projects and the zones to get our own organisation clearer. We need to get it to the right size and doing the right job to enable our suppliers to do their job properly.'

This is closely tied to development of partnering arrangements. These have been slow to take off in Railtrack, despite positive noises at the top. Suppliers at last week's Institution of Civil Engineers dinner still felt there was an element of the emperor's new clothes about the company's enthusiasm for partnering - it is a nice illusion, but when it comes to the crunch Railtrack will end up using the same hard nosed contracts backed by the same old lawyers it always has done.

'I have to say I can understand that view,' Murray says. 'For partnering to work you need trust, and the construction industry still thinks that trust is an emotional issue. But I have a harder edged view. It is all about openness, competence and consistency, and I'd be the first to say that we at Railtrack have work to do from top to bottom to achieve those standards.'

He is currently in the process of creating a sensible structure for the major projects directorate so everyone on major projects and investment programmes in the zones becomes part of a coherent team that everyone understands.

'Just as you know when you buy a hamburger from a MacDonalds in Manchester it will taste the same as one you buy in London, when you do business with us in the north west you should get the same deal you get in southern zone,' Murray says.

Change will take time, he warns. 'It takes time to teach people to work in a different way. But I would encourage all the people who do business with us to take action along the same lines.

'One message I want to get out to the industry is that Railtrack recognises that it has to change, but if suppliers wait for us to change before starting to change themselves they are likely to miss the boat - or rather the train.'

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