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Straight talk and bold planning

Improved organisation, communication and scheduling are what the Americans feel they have brought to the UK rail industry.

THE WEST Coast Main Line is one contract where the programme management techniques are starting to pay off. Bob Janowski, Parsons Brinckerhoff head of programme management, describes the system as 'the best state of the art tool available'.

Janowski says that getting UK staff to improve the way they communicate has been one of the major achievements. 'The British were too polite, ' says the American, 'compared to US employees who are direct to the point of confrontational.' This is something he feels is needed to keep to a tight schedule and his staff are adapting.

Team sessions and workshops have improved, he believes, as people have become 'less shy.

Boldness is very healthy in the workplace, ' he concludes.

There are over 2,000 train movements per day on the WCML and over 6,000 trains crossing the line. With 400 work sites along the route, organising the works is vitally important.

This has meant establishing integrated planning teams to enable possessions to be organised so work can be carried out in a number of areas simultaneously, for example track laying, signalling and maintenance.

In March only 20% of possessions were multiple use. This figure has now risen to over 50%, bringing obvious efficiency gains.

Integrated scheduling has been introduced for the whole WCRM stage one upgrade, which involves increasing speed capacity to 125mph by 2002. Work is now progressing much more closely to the programme, allowing Parsons to identify 'spikes', as Janowski puts it, 'and pull them back in to line'.

The works programme is also being linked to budgeted expenditure, so that Parsons can see where it is not performing.

It is generally accepted that the program management techniques are working on the WCML. Some contractors believe programme management has only made a difference to consultant/client alliances so far, although this is changing.

'Our work with Parsons was hindered by the project hierarchy acting as a barrier to better understanding, though this is a trait that is disappearing, ' says Doug Gillespie, project director for the Track Alliance.

Rail Regulator Tom Winsor is, however, very impressed by the work being done and recognises significant improvements in track work arrangements are being made.

Micheal Beswick, director of network regulation for the regulator, says the recent works at Proof House junction on the WCML show programme management is working. 'Railtrack has a challenge to deliver consistency and had to be prepared to go international to get it, ' he says. 'Clearly there is a great deal to do to improve Railtrack's programme management skills, and recent problems highlight this.'

Janowski appreciates there have been problems, saying there have been 'dark days'. 'Things are getting better though, ' he says, something few disagree with.

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