Transport officials have ordered Network Rail and FirstGroup, the franchise holder for the Great Western Main Line, to develop a plan for better communicating about infrastructure work.
It follows a warning that private investors in rail infrastructure projects on the Great Western route could be put off by poor communication from Network Rail.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has recently consulted on the future of the Great Western Rail Franchise. The DfT published its response to the consultation, as well as the consultation outcomes, yesterday. In its response, the DfT said that Network Rail and FirstGroup must put together a specific plan for delivering “whole-industry” support for those affected by engineering work, specifically including local authorities and those who could fund rail improvements.
The consultation found that, particularly for smaller infrastructure works, local authorities often had no idea who to approach. This, the feedback said, could be a barrier to bodies investing in improvements.
The consultation feedback document said: “Many respondents highlighted that the interests of passengers, as represented by the franchisee, and those of Network Rail were not always well aligned, in particular how disruption is managed and engineering work carried out.
“A number of local authority respondents stated that they found that the industry was fragmented and difficult to deal with, does not necessarily give clear and consistent messages, and that it was often difficult for third parties to know which organisation did what, or to find a single point of contact.
“This seems to be particularly acute in relation to smaller infrastructure or station schemes, and some respondents stated that better collaboration between the various industry participants should allow these schemes to be progressed more quickly.”
The feedback added: “A number of stakeholders attending the consultation events argued that the fragmented nature of the industry, and difficulty navigating through its processes, was a barrier to locally-funded investment in rail improvements as compared to other modes. Their view was that tackling this issue should help to unlock more local funding for rail schemes.”
In March, Network Rail published its Open for Business list, detailing projects that are in the pipeline for market-led bids.
The DfT’s feedback on the consultation also ruled out speculation that the next franchise would be split. The Great Western Main Line electrification has been dogged with problems, causing delays and budget overruns.
Network Rail said it already has a route supervisory board and alliance in place.