"Unless we are prepared to take at least some of the risk, or more of the risk, then we are not going to get the step-change in performance or innovative thinking and operating in the way we want," said Network Rail director of civil engineering Jerry England.
Network Rail wants to reduce possessions to eight hours to allow train operators to provide a full service seven days a week (NCE 23 October).
However, penalties for late possessions are very high, especially on commuter routes and contractors currently plan contingencies into possessions.
England asked: "What incentive is there for a contractor to effectively take a risk by trying out something new – perhaps untested, probably untested in the rail industry even if it has been tested somewhere elsewhere – if he thinks that if it goes wrong, or does not work as intended, he is going to be left carrying the can?"
"There is an allocation of risk and we will expect the contractors to take their share with things that are within their control – their work, their staff, and their design," added England, who joined Network Rail in October after leaving his role as interim major projects board director for the Highways Agency.
"But, if we want to try something new – a new material or way of doing things, then if it goes wrong we will have to take it on the chin," he said.