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Viewpoint: Harder, better, faster, stronger

Network Rail’s investment projects director Simon Kirby talks performance

News that the UK economy has clawed itself out of the longest recession since 1945 is welcome, although the road ahead is still filled with much uncertainty.

With the prospect of spending cuts on the horizon whichever party wins the next election, we have to continue banging the drum for continued investment in infrastructure. A successful, vibrant economy needs fast, efficient and reliable infrastructure to stimulate growth, opening new markets and opportunities.

We cannot take funding for granted, and in tough economic conditions we need to demonstrate the value of investing in major schemes, and deliver on our promises.

Network Rail is coming to the end of the first year of our current five year investment programme to build a bigger and better railway.

“A successful, vibrant economy needs fast, efficient and reliable infrastructure to stimulate growth, opening new markets and opportunities.”

Included in our plans are 500 major schemes to improve journeys for rail users. These are essential to ease the constraints of an ever-popular railway, making it easier for passengers to travel and for freight users to reach their markets.

Yet this funding requires tough efficiency targets and a commitment to reduce the cost of running the railway. We need a railway fit for the 21st century. We need to enable the network to run more trains than ever before, with higher levels of punctuality and reliability, while reducing costs. We need to challenge ourselves to seek out value for money at every turn.

I spend a lot of my time talking to suppliers and I know how challenging the current market is. I can also see that approaches vary, and frankly so does performance. We intend to focus more and more on strong supplier partnerships by rewarding excellent delivery, encouraging innovation and being intolerant of mediocracy.

To achieve this we need to work very closely with our supply chain. Jointly we need to work hard to develop partnerships to bring major investment schemes to fruition, and deliver them to time and within budget.

This requires the right environment for the supply chain to operate effectively. An environment that encourages joint strategic decision making in a fair and transparent way. An environment that fosters professional long-term relationships that are mutually beneficial.

“We intend to focus more and more on strong supplier partnerships by rewarding excellent delivery, encouraging innovation and being intolerant of mediocracy.”

We will fail to deliver on our promises if we fail to provide the right environment for suppliers to develop and innovate. As a client we need to be clear with our planning, requirements and supply chain structure. We’re working hard to communicate with the supply base and our suppliers need to focus on our needs and tell us when we’re wrong.

In the current climate, some will undoubtedly feel the squeeze, but we knew this would never be easy.

Challenging the conventional, developing more efficient ways of working, making resources go further, and delivering more for less are at the forefront of delivering innovative solutions. There are many areas now that are demonstrating true innovation being delivered on projects across the country that reflect a lot of hard work by many people. Our joint challenge is to continue to develop further efficiencies in both design and construction to achieve our challenging investment programme.

It is only by doing this that we can demonstrate that public confidence in investment in the country’s rail network can be justified in the current difficult economic climate.

  • Simon Kirby is Network Rail’s investment projects director

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