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Rail routes to be individually regulated by CP6

Bath Spa station

Network Rail has given itself two years to get route devolution off the ground, saying it will happen by the beginning of its next five year investment period, which starts in April 2019.

The pledge has been revealed in the first progress report published by Network Rail since it published transformation plans last summer. These outlined the government-owned company’s initial devolution plans that will result in separate spending settlements administered to each route by control period 6 (CP6). 

The transformation plan follows publication of a government commissioned report by High Speed 1 chief executive Nicola Shaw, which called for routes to have more autonomy over infrastructure investment and maintenance, in partnership with train operators.

The rail infrastructure owner and operator now says it will regulate these routes via a board, and has already started appointing senior management for some of the routes.

For suppliers working with Network Rail, it says there has been a huge shift with 99% of work now approved at a local level.

A new scorecard system – based on customer feedback – is now in place on each route, and this is now going to be the primary way Network Rail is regulated by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).

The Department for Transport (DfT) will also base franchise awards on these scores. It is part of the vision for Network Rail outlined by transport secretary Chris Grayling, which the aim of ensuring the rail infrastructure owner and operator works much more closely with train operating companies. The first to usher in change will be the East Midlands and Southeastern franchises due to be awarded in March and August 2018 respectively.

Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne said: “On the Western route we have set up a route board with an independent chair and representatives from Network Rail, Great Western Railway, Heathrow Express and, on behalf of passengers, Transport Focus. We will evaluate this pilot in the summer to inform how to implement this approach across other routes, in discussion with train operators.”

There are now chief operating officers in place on six routes. Internally, 450 roles, including some in the technical engineering directorate, have been devolved.

The National System Operator (NSO) unit of Network Rail will also have its own separate regulation.

Network Rail also says it wants to get private investment to fund projects in CP6 and CP7 which currently are unfunded.

The industry welcomed the moves from Network Rail.

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and Network Rail, said: “There is wide industry support for Network Rail’s devolved route structure supported by a National System Operator and Technical Authority. It is seen as the central enabler for many industry improvements in the short to medium term; for example through enabling clear comparators between routes, increased customer focus and more localised decision making.”

Civil Engineering Contractors Association (Ceca) chief executive Alastair Reisner said: “Hopefully this structure engenders better relations. There is a risk that this could lead to a patchwork approach to procurement and delivery.”

He said Network Rail needs to ensure there’s enough capability within each route to deliver.

“We need to know what CP6 looks like, but this is a useful building block,” he said.

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