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Transport troubleshooter

How do you assess whether a new rail scheme is a good one? SSRA technical director Peter Hansford has the answers.

Britain's transport infrastructure is at breaking point. The railways are full to capacity withlarge parts of the infrastructure past their sell by date.

Roads are no better, with gridlocked motorways and plans for road charging highlighting the problem in inner cities.

The drive to develop Britain's railways should therefore be welcome.

But with a boom comes risk.If left uncoordinated, the nation could see a lot of good money thrown after bad, or at least unnecessary schemes. Equally, if allowed to go unmanaged, the industry faces a resources shortage.

The shadow Strategic Rail Authority has to troubleshoot the potential problems that a rail boom might bring.

The man responsible for ensuring rail projects are properly set up and provide the paying public with value for money is infrastructure technical director Peter Hansford.

'The role of the sSRA is to facilitate the development of Britain's railways and to ensure the progression of capital projects, ' he explains. 'It is a relatively hands off role, but we want to encourage appropriate expansion of the railway and ensure we get value for money.

'And it's completely new. We are interested in integration between modes of transport and our work will involve a balance between providing high level advice on how to develop integrated transport and more direct input.'

Given that the sSRA will be involved in either developing or assessing every rail proposal, it is no surprise to learn that the authority does not have the internal resources to carry out the work itself. The figures being bandied around for railway development are massive, with Railtrack's latest estimate put at £52bn over the next 12 years.

As a result, Hansford is setting up a panel of technical consultants that the sSRA can turn to on a regular basis to carry out studies, audit proposals put to the sSRA for government subsidy and to work up the sSRA's own ideas. The list is not yet complete, but Hansford says the advertisement in the Official Journal of the European Community received 73 responses for the 12 or so places.

'We are trying to create a range of skills from multi-disciplinary companies and some from specialists in technical areas including rolling stock, signalling, transport planning, demand forecasting and project management.

'We will turn to these companies on a project by project basis, ' he explains.

'Work will be across the whole range of our activities including rail integration studies and capacity upgrade proposals.'

However, Hansford says just making it on to the list is not a guarantee of work. He says the list will operate for a finite, as yet undecided period and concludes: 'It will be difficult for those on the list to plan any long term workload.'

Hansford is also concerned with a potential skills shortage that threatens the booming rail industry. 'This investment in rail is going to have a major impact on the availability of resources, ' he says.

Railtrack has also recognised it faces a skills shortage, particularly in project management. Last year it recruited US consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff, Fluor Daniel and Bechtel and the UK's Mott MacDonald to programme manage its major projects.

The decision to recruit the programme managers was the result of a study of Railtrack's major project delivery by consultant Nichols Group. And Hansford was part of the Nichols team.

Hansford thinks the network manager should recruit still further. 'There is so much going on in London that a programme manager for London would be a good idea. Railtrack is managing that itself.'

On the spot Name: Peter Hansford

Job: shadow Strategic Rail Authority technical director of infrastructure

Qualifications: BSc civil engineering Nottingham University 1975, MBA, FICE

Reasons for going into civil engineering: 'I saw myself as an applied mathematician and I wanted to make things happen.'

First job: Site engineer with Amey Roadstone on the A40 to M11 Cambridge to Witney bypass.

First railway experience: 'The Kowloon Canton Railway electrification when I was with consultant Maunsell in Hong Kong from 1981 to 1985.'

Why the MBA? : 'I wanted to add a business dimension to my skills. And it was worth every minute of it. Working with people from other disciplines totally broadened my outlook.'

After that: 'I joined rail consultant Nichols as project manager on the Docklands Light Railway.'

Best thing about current job: 'The breadth of experience. It is a very exciting time for the railways and this is a totally new role, a blank canvas to some extent.'

Worst thing: 'The blank canvas.'

Anything else: 'I am running for ICE Council this year. Oh yes, and I'm a qualified sub aqua diving instructor.

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