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"Without change, we will fail," Network Rail's Coucher tells suppliers

Network Rail chief executive Iain Coucher said this week that the company must change in order to survive.

Speaking at a suppliers’ conference in Birmingham, Coucher said Network Rail needs to secure more investment and improve punctuality, performance and safety.

“If we continue to spend at the current rate, we will overspend by over £4bn, and we will not let that happen,” he said.

“It would bankrupt Network Rail and put the industry right back to 2001. We would lose the massive gains we as an entire industry have made.”

Improving on the record

Network Rail reported record investment levels this year at £4.7bn – an improvement on last year’s £4bn.

But at the suppliers’ conference Coucher said more was needed. “We need to increase the record levels of investment to a level of sustained rate that our predecessors could only dream of,” he said. “More investment means continued opportunity for everybody.”

“If we continue to spend at the current rate, we will overspend by over £4bn, and we will not let that happen.”

Iain Coucher, Network Rail

Coucher said these funds would make “a real difference” to passenger and freight services, while also allowing Network Rail to tap into new markets – he noted that around 50M Britons say they do not currently use the railway on a regular basis.

“We will continue to see numbers of rail users rise,” he said. “With an improving product, and a deteriorating competitor − road and air travel − we should be well placed to capture more people.”

Dealing with turbulence

Coucher’s comments come after a turbulent period in which Network Rail saw its budget cut in October by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR).

The ORR also criticised Network Rail for missing efficiency targets and ordered it to produce a plan for improving performance.

“We have always maintained that the efficiencies are there to be had. It would just take a little longer than the ORR believed was possible.”

Iain Coucher, Network Rail

Coucher decided in May to forego £306,000 of his annual bonus for this year, saying he was “mindful of current sentiment”.

“We have always maintained that the efficiencies are there to be had,” he said this week.

“It would just take a little longer than the ORR believed was possible. We got some concessions, but we didn’t win the argument.

“We need to become the best of the best. This is the only way to silence the critics, to prove the nay-sayers wrong. And we need to do this fast.”

Value for money

Coucher also discussed value for money, saying he disagreed that too much money was being spent on rail services.

“The amount of money we spend on the railways is less than 1% of government expenditure and, given the importance of the railway to economic growth of the country, I think that we should be able to justify more.”

He said the industry must innovate more. “We are a nation of innovators, but we still look too much to the past, to out-dated methods, tools, processes and ways of doing work.

“We are reluctant to take risks, to experiment with new materials and technology. Now is the time to change all that.

“I give you my commitment to changing Network Rail.”

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