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Gareth Dennis @GarethDennis
, 89 tweets, 23 min read Read on Twitter
Time to watch the @CommonsTrans's oral evidence session on rail infrastructure investment... Featuring @RAIL, Mick Lynch (@RMTunion), Tammy Samuel (@SHLegal) and Prof Andrew Smith (@ITSLeeds).

Kick-off at 16:45:…
Nice reference from @MartinVickers to @AnsonJack1's assertion that @railandroad is too focused on establishing efficiency targets rather than promoting investment in the network...
A worrying point made by @RAIL, that pressure from the regulator can make @networkrail's leadership feel like @railandroad is its customer, and not the passenger and freight operators.
Prompted by a point made by Mick Lynch, @LilianGreenwood asks if @railandroad have a clear picture of what "efficiencies" look like, and what they are looking for to achieve them.
Andrew Smith counters that, actually, @railandroad quite succinctly define what efficiency is through defining their required high level outputs and challenging the industry to reduce the cost of delivering them.
A question from @gstringermp - is it an absurdity that the nationalised @networkrail should be regulated (and therefore fined for failure) when the money is the taxpayers' anyway and is it an anomaly that ROSCOs remain largely unregulated in the context of a privatised system?
It's fair to say there was a mixed response to the point, though Andrew Smith highlighted that private investors and others require the confidence that NR can deliver thus the regulator still has a place.
As for ROSCOs... well, the daft situation of the 707s being bought and then nearly immediately going off-lease seemed to used as a point of success of the ROSCO model. Good to hear acknowledgement across the panel that the 1990s fire sale of rolling stock was obscene, though.
brings the session back around to the Control Periods... Are they fit for purpose? @DanielZeichner asks if the problems about peaks and troughs in supply chain engagement stem from the CPs themselves, or from NR's way of spending money during each CP's duration.
Andrew Smith immediately notes that the energy industry has moved towards 8-year funding periods to move away from a "sweat the asset" approach to a more long-term perspective... Overall, however, he is sceptical of the need to lengthen the Control Periods.
Tammy Samuel thinks that Control Periods should be tied into the franchise periods (or vice versa).

This does result in the potential for varied CP lengths depending on which route or franchise you are talking about... Though devolution to the NR routes may require this anyway.
HS1 is (and the @elizabethline will be) owned by different infrastructure managers... As may HS2. Tammy asserts that the industry is moving towards a situation of multiple infrastructure managers and so Control Periods may have to be different for each one.
Mick Lynch points out NR's continued cancellation of large and small projects thanks to spending a significant amount of the CP5 total settlement in the first couple of years... He notes that (for example) the High Output renewals equipment has been mothballed as a result.
Putting to one side the madness of a very effective means of renewal being sat to collect dust, this ebb and flow is very difficult for a skilled workforce to endure.

Mick notes that he has seen cases where NR lets staff go in CP5 that it knows it will have to re-hire in CP6.
notes NR's success in CP4, and points out that NR's reclassification (and its new immovable debt ceiling) is possibly the main cause of the pain in CP5. No longer is it possible for NR to shift money forwards as in previous years to smooth out the troughs in work.
This was not just NR, but was essentially encouraged by the regulator and @transportgovuk... "Going cold turkey [after] that was never going to be easy" says @RAIL.
The cycle of hiring/firing contract staff and equipment is the source of all manner of problems, not least in upskilling the overall workforce (such as in developing apprentices). Good to hear @RAIL being the first to mention the A word!
5 years would be fine if the industry got it right. 15 years would be even better. The bureaucracy is the problem where it is made with only a top-down perspective, says @RAIL.
"Wherever you have decisions about railways being made closer to the passenger, you get better railways."

@RAIL cites successes in Germany and (a little closer to home) for @ScotRail as examples of this in practice.
probes the panel further - are these problems inherent in Control Periods, are they caused by cultural issues in NR, or is it a mixture of the two?
states that the railways are getting on a bit and that @hmtreasury's financing of CP6 is a vote of confidence in @networkrail. It indicates that even they realise that things are still pointing in a good direction for the industry.
brings the focus back on the impact on jobs and skills of the industry's stop-start approach to infrastructure delivery.
Mick Lynch describes the challenge faced by NR's investments division (IP) having to attempt to distribute work across all of the various contractors. The resulting back and forth exacerbates the "dependency on a casualised workforce."
He suggests that, by NR taking much of the delivery workforce in-house, they could smooth the "lumpiness" of the workflow and perhaps also gain some major efficiencies in the process.
On the subject of long-term planning and the workforce, Tammy Samuel describes the challenges associated with the "Digital Railway" initiative actually being a convoluted description of several different and confused workstreams...
...this makes it very difficult for the supply chain to understand precisely what skills will be required to deliver the plan. This extends well beyond technical and engineering skills, as the support services (commercial, legal, etc.) also have to adapt to any proposals.
On the subject of digital signalling, at least, Tammy Samuel implies that a long term strategy outside of the funding streams may be more appropriate.
I'll interject here and say that this is a key point - I think that this should be the case for investments and upgrades across the board. If there is a long-term plan, then renewals can be shaped towards fitting the overall upgrade aspiration of a given line or route...
...allowing a much more efficient upgrade of the railway. This simply doesn't happen today.
For example, an S&C renewal in the current setup is essentially mandated as being "like-for-like" despite there potentially being a benefit to installing a faster unit (probably for only a 5-10% increase in cost).

With a long-term plan, this would be identified early-doors.
summarises this point very neatly: irrespective of the duration of Control Periods, there should be a longer-term vision of the railway that is transparent to everyone.
**nods and mumbles of agreement from the whole panel**

Actually, @Transport4North and @MidsConnect are doing this now. To an extent, this is also the approach of @transcotland and the @ScotRail Alliance. This is a model that should be rolled out UK-wide.
Andrew Smith counters all of this by saying that he doesn't actually believe that we have stop-start investment. Control Periods are being adopted across the EU as a model of best practice in managing funding streams.
He does, however, agree that NR's reclassification has resulted in an interruption in successful planning processes that shouldn't be the case in CP6.
(I know I am running behind, by the way... I just like to watch and re-watch to capture the salient points before yammering on about them on here. I am only up to 17:33!)
now asks about whether the Periodic Review process is too long. Everyone agrees that, whilst it is a lengthy process, it has to happen in great detail otherwise it doesn't achieve its outcomes.
Tammy Samuel thinks that devolution offers an opportunity to easily incorporate the needs of local authorities and other regional stakeholders thus shortening the process of engagement.
Andrew Smith adds that bringing TOCs closer into the process may also add value as well.
I'll note here that there hasn't been a single mention of the needs of freight customers yet (well, apart from a fleeting inclusion by @grahamemorris)!
Moving on again. @LilianGreenwood asks if @transportgovuk's 2012 HLOS was simply impossible to achieve in the time given and, if so, why didn't @networkrail and/or @railandroad act to avert a crisis.
gives a simple answer - yes, there was too much to do and everything fell over as a result. Tammy Samuel repeats the common suggestion that a lack of sufficient design detail caused the problems.
On the other hand, Andrew Smith notes that the adjustment mechanism for early cost generation should avoid this situation.
asks a key question - would it be appropriate or beneficial to spread large schemes across multiple Control Periods?
Again, @RAIL answers by saying that rail engineering isn't rocket science and the over-bureaucratisation from the top-down seems to get in the way of delivering projects predictably and efficiently.
Again, we're moving on. @LilianGreenwood queries the potential success (or otherwise) of NR and the DfT's memorandum of understanding for enhancements going forwards...

Namely that they will follow a develop - design - deliver pipeline outside of the Control Periods.
Mick Lynch strikes a "we'll have to wait and see" tone, noting that NR should still be the guiding mind of enhancements lest the network become fractured. He does also pick out HS2 as an example where this does work, but this is greenfield rather than NR's working railway.
is more optimistic, so long as there isn't significant interference beyond the industry. Andrew Smith worries that the pipeline approach will unhelpfully reduce @railandroad's oversight.
Tammy is supportive. Projects overrun because they aren't specified properly in the first place or are asked to change mid-life. Allowing projects some breathing space to be specified correctly before proceeding is no bad thing.
Mick further highlights the complexity of running a railway whilst also trying to unpick and enhance it. He says that any third parties interested in undertaking enhancements must not be able to just throw things at NR, consequence free, if it goes wrong.
This reinforces @networkrail's role as the system operator... but this is still an evolving role. @RAIL and Tammy Samuel briefly discuss where this could be good and bad. It's good to have a whole-network view; it might be bad if the SO became a bloated blocker for progress.
asks a question about "gold-plating" of projects and the optimum point of devolution for decision making powers.
responds immediately by saying that it should be the Route Managing Directors, and uses the example of Kings Cross remodelling's use of explicit CSM risk assessments to deviate from GL/RT1210 and avoid a reconstruction of the station's glass footbridge.
By the way, before anyone starts moaning about standards, read this thread:
In this context (and the Paisley Canal electrification example @RAIL also uses), the RMD has taken responsibility for managing the risk differently from the manner defined in the standard. The solution isn't more risky, it is just being managed differently.
For the entire Great Western electrification project so far, not a single deviation (i.e. proposal to manage the risk in a different way to that defined by the standard) was submitted to @RSSB_rail, alleges @RAIL.
I should add that, when deviations are repeatedly submitted, the standards are reviewed and changed by @RSSB_rail!
Good techie detail described clearly, Nigel!
Mick Lynch says that sensible empowerment of properly qualified and capable people is to be encouraged, however there should be caution: business devolution isn't the same as decision-making devolution.
Tammy Samuel comes back to the "optimal devolution" question. She wants a depth of devolution that gives adequate proximity to the people that will be using the services. TOCs and local authorities should work with the devolved infrastructure manager to give the best service. the passenger. Again, no mention of freight here!
's line of the system operator being the "slave, not the master" seems to be a supported theme by Tammy Samuel and Andrew Smith as they have referred back to it several times.
Andrew Smith adds the point that 8 different routes gives a more useful dataset to challenge success and failures between different approaches... He sees this as being a significant opportunity.
points out that mistakes with public money might not be as palatable as in a wholly private environment. Andrew Smith doesn't disagree, but does say that the regulatory process will still remain to provide due scrutiny.
also refers to the fact that alternative solutions would still have to pass through the @RSSB_rail's deviation process and anything that manages risk in a less effective way than the standard would be rejected in all cases.
It's 18:15 on the clock... I'm catching up a bit!
As well as pointing out the risks of back-door infrastructure privatisation through route devolution, Mick Lynch also points out that the whole point of a national infrastructure manager is to redistribute money from successful areas to struggling ones.
He very strongly doesn't want to see NR becoming a standards library and a licence holder only. He and the RMT are pretty sceptical of devolution as a whole, seeing it as a way to reduce the rights of workers.
He argues that innovation and efficiencies come from clever engineering and not from enabling a more compliant and less protected workforce.
He also points out that, if current managers were empowered enough, the sort of clever engineering that @RAIL referred to could take place under the current national structure of NR.
Andrew Smith answers a question from @LukePollard about whether @railandroad can adapt to the new devolved structure... He believes that the gradual change that has been ongoing means that there won't be some sudden radical change to account for.
(from the south west) then talks about layering NR devolution on top of regional transport devolution (i.e. @Transport4North/@MidsConnect/@TfL/@transcotland).

He acknowledges that the SW has no sub-national transport body and attracts very little investment...
...will the double devolution result in a further reduction in the funding for areas with no sub-national transport bodies.
Tammy Samuel counters that devolution brings the people who hold the purse strings closer to the regional authorities, but also enables a greater access to third party funding streams such as those from housing developers or the TOCs.
now asks whether there is a great potential for third party funding of railway infrastructure projects.

@RAIL says a hearty "yes" and suggests that as an industry we have made it very hard for this seemingly hefty pile of money to end up as rails on the ground.
Tammy Samuel agrees. She has been working with clients for a number of years that wished to give money to @networkrail - the legislative structures are even there to enable it (including the Investment Recovery Charge). It is happening on rolling stock right now.
then counters that there must be downsides to third party operators of, say, major stations. Tammy again agrees that the major stations are probably best owned by NR. She also says that NR is the blocker to smaller-scale investment in and around other stations.
Mick then points out that selling off these valuable assets (such as railway arches) actually very quickly loses a useful revenue stream for NR. Not only that, NR would inevitably have to pay these developers a hefty price to work on or around land that they used to own.
Tammy Samuel points to the example of the Solum Regeneration joint venture as an example where NR becomes a shareholder in a joint development where stations are improved. It's a public-private partnership of sorts.…
ponders the idea of NR getting too much into the business of property development and takes its eye of the ball of managing railway infrastructure, as Railtrack did before its collapse.
Mick Lynch agrees, though is not against some innovation. He doesn't want profit to drive the devolution of the NR routes. He cites @StPancrasInt and other major stations as great examples of where partnerships can work, but is wary of losing sight of the railway's purpose.
The discussion moves towards digital signalling. Tammy Samuel and Andrew Smith discuss cost-effectiveness and the impact on physical infrastructure needs.
Mick answers a question about whether new signalling precludes the requirement for electrification. He emphasises the point that they are two different issues. Electrification helps with capacity and modern train control can help with energy efficiency...
...but both achieve separate goals.
Closing remarks: @RAIL points out that the current changes aren't about privatising or profitising; they are about creating more railway for the money we are spending. There's another £10bn more to spend in CP6 than CP5 and it needs to be got right.
Mick agrees and is keen to see more innovation as previously discussed but notes that the railway system should remain a national one, as this is in the best interests of all involved.
closes proceedings of this session of the @CommonsTrans.

Hopefully this was as useful for you to read as it was for me to (albeit loosely) "live" tweet!
It's almost as if you've been doing it for years...
Hopefully you're happy with this direct quote, Nigel!
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