Winning the 2012 Olympic bid is one of the best things that could have happened for the UK's railways, believes Railway Forum director general Adrian Lyons. 'Rail will be an integral part of the Olympic experience, in a way unlike any other Olympics, ' he predicts.
The 2012 transport plan is built around public transport, placing emphasis on the national rail network as a means of getting to London. Once in the capital, spectators will principally use overground and Underground trains to get to the Olympic park.
'It'll be an opportunity to demonstrate to Britain's transport users and visitors from the rest of the world that the rail industry has left its woes behind, ' says Lyons. 'The Games give the industry a date to focus on.' Lyons is buoyed by the anticipated report on the future of UK transport by retiring BAA chief executive Rod Eddington, which is widely expected to call for a new north-south high speed line (NCE 24 March).
And he believes that rail is the best placed mode of transport to deliver technology-led reductions in greenhouse gas emissions - the only decisive agreement on climate change reached at last week's G8 summit (News page 12). Trains are far better suited to hydrogen power than cars, he says.
But there are doubts about the clarity of Network Rail's vision for the system.
'We wish we understood better how Network Rail is managing its costs, ' says one senior consultant. 'They've stopped signing cheques. If they're saving money by putting off projects, that's only half bad.
But if Network Rail's putting off projects because they don't know what they are doing, that is 100% bad.' Earlier in the year consultants suggested that Network Rail may be deliberately starving its suppliers to drive down prices.
There have also been complaints about Network Rail's late payment (NCE 10 February).
The head of another rail consultant says that Network Rail's work plan is reactive, with spending agendas shaped by disasters.
Projects to introduce train warning systems following the Paddington crash and to prevent gauge corner cracking following Hatfield are now largely complete, and the industry is now kicking its heels.
Many consultants are looking to private sector clients for rail work, says Gifford director Tim Holmes.
Yet there is a large volume of resignalling, track replacement, double tracking and line electrification to be done. To fully upgrade and modernise the network by 2012, Network Rail 'needs to make big decisions rapidly'.