Network Rail has announced that it will create a new devolved business unit for Wales as part of the company’s plans to devolve responsibility to routes on the railway.
The company has announced that the new unit, called Wales and the Marches, will create a Wales operational route for the first time in the history of the railway.
This move is part of the company’s latest drive to increase its responsiveness at a local level by giving power, responsibility and accountability to the new business units.
Network Rail chief executive David Higgins said the new business unit will forge stronger ties with the Welsh Assembly Government.The move follows the approval of plans to increase the powers of the Welsh assembly in a referendum earlier this month.
A route is a geographical operational area or region. Currently, the country is split into nine of these regions with a route director managing the day to day operation of the railway on their patch. Wales currently falls within the Western route and London and North Western route.
Announcing the creation of a Wales route, Higgins said: “Network Rail has saved money and transformed the railway through central control but to make further improvements in Wales we now need to increase responsiveness at a local level by operating with a one-Wales strategy.”
The Welsh route will, effectively, become its own infrastructure business, Higgins said, following a trial of devolution of responsibility to the Scotland and Wessex routes that begins in April.
“We’re devolving accountability so that we can get closer to our customers and be in a better position to deliver improvements to passengers and freight users, while forging stronger ties with the Welsh Assembly Government to unlock any untapped potential on the railway,” Higgins said.
The route will oversee the management and operation of the railway in south Wales, mid Wales, north Wales and the Marches from a regional headquarter in Cardiff. Historically, the railway in Wales was built and operated by separate companies including the Great Western Railway and the London, Midland and Scottish company
“This represents a significant change of emphasis to give our people on the routes the ability and the means to deliver a bigger, better, more affordable railway,” Higgins said.
However, he added: “There will continue to be a critical role for a supporting centre that helps make the most of economies of scale. The railway still needs to be planned and operated as a network which operates seamlessly, and we must maintain the company’s focus on efficient and effective management of long-life railway assets.”