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Together at last

Railtrack reckons it finally has the management team in place to spend its £2.5bn annual budget efficiently. Jackie Whitelaw reports.

If you are spending £1M every working hour you need to have a good group of people around. And after 18 months as director of Railtrack's major projects and investment division Simon Murray believes he has the right team in place.

When Murray joined the company, Railtrack was a byword among its suppliers for inconsistency, confrontation, and indecision. A major survey of Railtrack's suppliers finally brought home that view to the attention of its senior management, and though their verdict may have been harsh it does seem to have acted as a catalyst for change (NCE 2 February).

Murray added functional responsibility for the Railtrack zones to his portfolio of major projects which has allowed him to introduce universal systems, procedures and contract strategies across Railtrack's £2.5bn annual spending programme.

'I realised I couldn't effect the changes I wanted without a really good team around me and the first thing that struck me was how many good people I already had. But because of privatisation many of them were in the wrong places.

'As the projects were ramping up I also knew I needed more staff at senior levels and recognised I needed to recruit from outside, and reach down into the organisation to pull out the able people, ' Murray says.

The end result is a senior team made up of a combination of long term railway staff and outside experience which combines in depth knowledge of the railways with an injection of different private sector thinking.

Taking things in logical order, the first key person is head of investment strategy John Southgate. His job is to support the zones and finance division in planning the investment programme and tracking its progress. 'He is my navigator, ' Murray says.

Southgate, 33, was appointed to his new job in May after three years working on the station regeneration programme and another two in the capital projects directorate.

'We are just moving from the first regulatory period which was all about project control and being seen to spend to catch up the backlog of work, to the next regulatory period which will be all about outputs, ' he says. 'That means measurable improvements in things like ride quality and access to the network for train operators which needs a different planning approach.'

The intention is to produce a detailed investment plan for the current year plus the next three with a defined list of schemes and a profile of expenditure to deliver outputs like removing speed restrictions.

First step will be a list of current year schemes plus the next two years for the period beginning April 2001, with the promised 'one plus three' year forward plan being made available 12 months after that.

'This will mean we can possession plan, inform customers, allocate resources. And on the reporting side, we will be able to see the progress we are making and take action to make sure we hit our targets, ' Southgate says.

If Southgate has the overview of all Railtrack's spending, general manager of group wide programs Sean Westrope, 40, is one man who will make sure the cash is spent effectively.

He arrived at Railtrack eight weeks ago from programme manager O'Brien Krietzburg with a lengthy background in managing water industry renewal investment. The group wide programmes are programmes of work that spread across the whole network or that cross zone boundaries.

'It's Railtrack's day to day business, with the work managed centrally and the outputs delivered through the zones, ' Westrope says. Most critical of these is installation of the trackside train protection warning system which involves upgrading 11,000 signals by Railtrack's own target of 2002.

'My delivery mechanism is the zones, ' Westrope says. 'It's up to me to ensure they are working to a consistent level and to a consistent plan. The job is not to dictate to the nth degree but to establish the management framework and let the people in the zones control the work.'

All efforts at consistency will be helped by the appointment of Les Mosco, 46, as supply chain director. He's been with the organisation just over a month moving from post of global procurement director for international oil giant Amerada Hess.

His task is to develop productive alliances with leading suppliers, slim down the supply chain in general and use internet technology to simplify the buying of Railtrack's commodity purchases (see box).

Mosco's approach will affect all Railtrack's investment including the major projects and the zones.

The major projects now all have their project heads in place with their allied programme managers (see News), and Murray has brought Mike Nichols of the Nichols Group in part time to liaise between them all and share best practice.

In the zones, all seven heads of projects now have a functional report to Murray though they have a line report to their zone directors. There have been new people brought in here too, including 36 year old Mark Heasman who joined a year ago from American Express and before that the Royal Mail.

Heasman is zonal investment manager for East Anglia and its annual £150M spend. His job combines his original role HOP with that of business development. 'The role is a model for all the zones, ' says Heasman. 'It's a much more efficient way of working, as it makes me responsible for all investment from inception to completion.'

His biggest task is the West Anglia Route Modernisation - a signalling upgrade and 'a unique venture, the first five party alliance at Railtrack'. Heasman chairs the alliance representing the client, working with signalling specialist Westinghouse, civils contractor Alfred McAlpine, permanent way contractor Grant Rail and overhead line installer Amec-SPIE. 'It's a £200M spend over five years with huge opportunities to extend into an enhancement programme if we get funding from the sSRA.'

Heasman is watching with interest to see how Mosco develops his supply chain role as he feels there is still a lot of room for rationalisation. 'I do wonder why permanent way for instance is parcelled up zone by zone. Why not award a deal on a bigger scale for the whole of the south?

Murray has gathered around him a highly qualified, commited team that he says will allow Railtrack to start moving forward on its investments at speed.

'My first job was to build the team. Now it's to take Gerald Corbett's vision of a world class railway and deliver it.

'And I'm very clear about my milestones. We have to establish our competence with the public, sRA and regulator so that they have the confidence we are able to deliver. I think we are well down that path. But I want to get to the point where people say 'Railtrack is where I want to work'. And I want us to be recognised as the world's leading infrastructure owner.'

Happy shopper

Before Christmas we are promised the definitive Railtrack procurement plan from new supply chain director Les Mosco.

'The problem we have is that we are not sufficiently consistent or predictable in our approach. We shouldn't have a single solution for everything, but it is important that suppliers see that for similar stuff we have a similar strategy, ' Mosco says. 'We are talking to suppliers about the best way forward, and for once we are listening.

'My view is that where zones are doing similar things we should question whether they should be zone based or procured on a wider basis - quantity surveyors for instance. It is unlikely we could employ just one nationally, but there is no particular reason for them to be zone based.'

An indication of the future can be seen with the appointment of civil engineer Amanda Henderson, 35, as stragegic supply manager track renewals to work with Mosco. She is to look at the supply of track renewals across the country.

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