Getting value for money on rail investment

3 August 2022
Getting value for money on rail investment

With pressure on the rail industry to save money, Christian Irwin, Rail Investment Centre of Excellence Director at Network Rail, has written this guest post to explain what the organisation is doing to slash the cost of rail investment projects.

The railway industry needs to save money. Now more than ever, we must become more efficient in what we do. At Network Rail, we’ve been looking at new technology, innovations, and smarter ways of working that will enable us to complete our projects quicker and cheaper, but without ever compromising on safety.

I head-up the SPEED initiative. It’s a joint programme between Network Rail and the Department for Transport aiming to half the time and slash the cost of rail investment projects. The goal is to improve the service being provided for passengers and freight users, whilst also making us a more dependable partner that’s easier to work with.

As we recover from the global pandemic, adapt to changing working and travel patterns, and cope with industrial action, we must focus on squeezing every penny of value out of every pound invested.

And we can’t do this on our own. The whole industry must work together.

What is SPEED?

To save time and cut cost, we’ve started to overhaul and streamline 11 different themes within our projects. This includes challenging and changing processes, covering a wide scope such as; procurement, governance, assurance, standards, and timetabling. SPEED is all about looking at new and different ways of working, being curious and challenging, and asking ourselves: “Can we do this differently? Can we be better?”

We took these 11 areas and put the new ways of working to the test, trialling them on a number of test projects to prove it could be done. And so we demonstrated it is possible to half the time and slash the cost of a number of those areas within our projects by streamlining our processes, using new technology, innovation and working smarter.

And the impact? Of the projects where the SPEED principles have been applied so far we’ve committed to savings of 633 months of time and £3 billion of costs. Money that can be invested elsewhere to benefit passengers and UK taxpayers, and time saved that can be spent elsewhere on the railway for further upgrades.

11 SPEED themes

Based on what we learnt from the initial SPEED test projects, 11 thematic workstreams were established. These themes address complex, systemic issues ranging from challenging our ways of working, to potential for legislative change. The themes have been set up in a more traditional transformation approach, with clearly defined plans and deliverables. Each of these themes has also been through a process of iterating their scope and plans through a series of challenge panels which have ensured the ambition set out initially is being maintained.

1. Planning and consents
2. Governance
3. Assurance
4. PACE (Project Acceleration in a Controlled Environment) and Optioneering
5. Timetabling
6. One-team culture
7. Interoperability and Common Safety Method (CSM)
8. Standards
9. Procurement strategy
10. Access and possession
11. Capability and Culture

Our next challenge is to embed this learning across our business, so all our projects are run to SPEED. In this way, we will all help improve Network Rail’s efficiency, saving time and money.

Christian Irwin is Rail Investment Centre of Excellence Director at Network Rail.

SPEED in practice: the restoration of the Dartmoor line

A joint industry partnership between Network Rail, Great Western Railway (GWR), Devon Country Council, and the Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership – with the support of the Department for Transport – led to the restoration of the Dartmoor railway line, bringing back regular passenger services to the line for the first time in nearly 50 years. Working alongside industry, regional and community partners and using the principles of SPEED, the project was delivered two years ahead of schedule and more than £10 million under the approved budget in less than nine months from the confirmation of funding.

The success of the Dartmoor line’s restoration is clear. Passengers are already in excess of 200 per cent of those that were predicted for the first year. This achievement is also made all the more impressive by considering that the line opened during the winter of the Covid-19 pandemic.