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RAIL: SRA executive director of infrastructure Peter Hansford introduces NCE's rail special issue with a look at the Agency's changing role.

THE CHALLENGE of developing and expanding our railway infrastructure is a crucial and exciting one, in which the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) is taking the lead role. Having been originally cast as the strategic planner and public sector funder of enhancements, we now find ourselves faced with the need to take a much more 'hands on' role in the development of the network.

The SRA accepts this challenge.

The SRA's role starts with planning for the changes needed to the network infrastructure to enhance safety, increase capacity, remove bottlenecks and satisfy other journey needs. We will then create the necessary commercial deals to make the schemes happen.

In prioritising schemes, the SRA considers the relative contributions to our overall growth and reduction in overcrowding targets, as well as the key criteria of value for money, affordability and technical resource availability.

Industry resource constraints underline the need for prioritising schemes, but also indicate the urgent need to recruit, train and retain the necessary skill base of engineers and technicians.

The SRA will play its part in encouraging the necessary large scale investment in the industry human resource base, partly through the establishment of a National Rail Academy.

A key assumption in our Strategic Plan is that almost all new projects will require a combination of public and private sector financing.

Additionally, SRA will fund the costs to establish new industry financial structures and early project development costs - up to a stage where it would be effective for the private sector to take on the residual development risks.

In this way we will seek to de-risk wherever possible and we will be much more prescriptive in defining required outputs than has been the case in the past.

As our Strategic Plan demonstrates, the SRA is committed to creating an enhancement framework that will support long term investment confidence.

By providing a high degree of certainty over future workload, work type and its timing, we aim to enable the capital markets to form a positive judgment about the new framework and attract investment in long term capacity and growth. Indeed, we believe that this is already starting to happen.

NCE has provided a useful survey on current and planned enhancement work on the network.

Inclusion of the work being done on the potential for a new north-south high speed line (page 28) - a very exciting long term initiative - indicates one aspect of the strategic planning the SRA is undertaking for the railway of the future.

I am confident that the range and scope of rail infrastructure work, at various stages of development, will provide much interest for NCE readers.

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