Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Higgins: Programme management will be key to cutting rail costs

Programme management expertise will be crucial to Network Rail’s efforts to drive down costs on the UK railway and meet the challenge of providing vital new capacity, according to new chief executive David Higgins this week.

Talking to NCE for the first time since joining Network Rail from the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) at the start of February, Higgins also promised earlier engagement with designers and contractors and a closer relationship with the supply chain.

He insisted that change was crucial at a time when Network Rail’s business had to double in size to cope with upcoming major projects like the London Bridge element of Thameslink and the electrification of the Great Western Main Line (see box).

“I need the industry to get smarter in programme management”

“The single skill the industry most needs to work on is programme management,” said Higgins. “We need to enhance the skill here. I need the industry to get smarter in programme management.

“We also need to bring designers and contractors in earlier in the GRIP (project development) process,” he said in response to a question about early involvement of the supply chain.

Higgins has had first-hand experience of working with programme manager CLM while at the ODA. This convinced him that planning a programme rather than individual projects can make all the difference in delivery of multi faceted infrastructure.

Network Rail in its earlier guise as Railtrack introduced programme management to UK construction during the work on the West Coast Main Line, bringing in Parsons Brinckerhoff and Bechtel. Bechtel is current carrying out a programme role on the Reading station upgrade. Higgins said that Network Rail would be going out soon to find a delivery partner for the second phase of the Thameslink project at London Bridge.

Higgins said that one of his biggest challenges at Network Rail would be coping with growth over the next few years as the firm tackled its ongoing regulatory responsibilities and contributed to the delivery of station, line and route enhancements across the UK. “We (Network Rail) need to be more responsive, more agile, more flexible” he said.

“There will be no return to the days of mad [regional] barons: You only get that if you put up with that behaviour.”

David Higgins

This change underpins the devolution strategy that is being rolled out alongside the McNulty review of the rail industry.

New regional managing directors are to be appointed to align with the train operating companies and plan operations and maintenance (NCE 24 February).

This process will start with the Wessex and Scotland regions and roll out over the next 18 months.

“I’ve talked to Roy (McNulty) a lot over the last six to nine months,” Higgins said.

“Nothing surprises me about what he’s coming up with. We need to find the right people with the right skills and put them as close as we can to the customers and the front line and let them make decisions. We need to empower these people.”

He said that change was simply “another chapter” for Network Rail rather than any major shift in strategy.

“Devolution means we will keep everything we have learned that is of great value but transfer it to the customer interface,” he said.

“But I don’t see regional mini Network Rails being created − that would be mad. We are not going back to the future. There will be no return to the days of mad [regional] barons: You only get that if you put up with that behaviour.”

Network Rail’s plans

The most recent Network Rail update to its control period 4 (CP4) delivery plan to 2014 outlines more than £7.6bn of enhancements to be completed in the five year period from April 2009. The major schemes are:

  • The Thameslink programme (£2.49bn)
  • Reading station and capacity improvements (£633M)
  • East Coast mainline improvements (£512M)
  • King’s Cross station upgrade (£366M)
  • Platform lengthening - southern region (£361M)
  • West Coast Main Line improvement schemes (£334M)
  • Airdrie - Bathgate line opening (£237M)

Other schemes, not part of CP4, include electrification between Liverpool to Manchester line and of the Great Western mainline and the improvements to the existing network for Crossrail. Plans for Control Period 5, from 2014 to 2019, include the £550M Northern Hub, completion of the £6bn Thameslink programme by 2018, and the £1bn Glasgow to Edinburgh improvements programme of Scottish central belt electrification by 2016.

Work on High Speed 2 is also planned to begin in 2015.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.