The more efficient we are, the more we can invest for passengers. We’ve been entrusted with public money and it’s our duty to spend it wisely.
By 2024, we will deliver £4bn of efficiencies by pursuing better value and doing more for less. And we have challenged ourselves to reduce our costs by 15% when building major projects.
Our spending grew to keep up with the extra building and repairs required of a busy, safe railway. Recognising the need for investment, the government entrusted us with a budget of £42bn for CP6 (control period 6, 2019 – 2024), after we’d demonstrated how we’d become more effective and save money.
We’ve explored our options and have committed to safely deliver a better value railway through the implementation of a company-wide efficiency drive. We’ve identified around 1,000 initiatives covering 23 key efficiency areas where we’re able to do more for less. Over CP6 we will squeeze every penny of value out of every pound invested, saving £4bn through new technology, innovation and working smarter, and drive down the cost of our major projects by 15% – money which we can then reinvest for passengers.
We’re exploring a portfolio of new technologies to speed-up our work, on and off the track. We’re implementing new streamlined processes and structures that make us more agile, and more effective at what we do. And we’re looking at innovative ways of working – better planning, better deals, better designs – that will allow us to deliver our plans for passengers at lower cost.
New technology, innovation and working smarter
Below are some examples of what we are doing to improve efficiency.
On the East Coast Mainline, the old diesel fleet of trains is being replaced with a bigger fleet of new electric trains. They’ll be longer, cleaner, greener and much more frequent. All these additional electric trains mean we need to boost the power supply to run them. By using innovative, new technology called “Static Frequency Convertors” instead of traditional methods will save over £500m throughout the course of the project.
Ordinarily, we’d have to go where National Grid supplies are available, setting up a whole new power supply system and carry the power over long distances. We’d then have to close the railway; installing pylons, digging up the ground, laying cables – all very expensive to install and disruptive for passengers.
Instead, Static Frequency Convertors sit separately from the railway and “plug-in” to existing power cables. They take the local electricity supply and amplify, clean, and optimise it, providing the ideal power supply for trains. And they do this without disturbing the local power supply.
As well as saving £0.5bn, by retiring the diesel fleet of trains, this project is also saving around 154 tonnes of carbon per day – that’s the equivalent of planting over 2300 trees every day.
Replacing damaged rail is expensive and time consuming. On suitable stretches of track, we now have the option to use the rail miller instead.
Specialist equipment onboard a dedicated engineering train is used to grind away the top layer of damaged rails. On targeted areas, this refreshes and renews the damaged rails so they are like new. It means we avoid costly and time-consuming track replacements, and so disrupt passengers less.
Using this new machine will save Network Rail £80m by the end of CP6.
We have thousands of initiatives like this when added together, bring our efficiency savings to £3.5bn.
By reviewing our standards on how we construct office buildings and depots next to the railway, we’ve been able to open-up to new suppliers and businesses who wouldn’t normally get to work with us on these types of projects. Working with new suppliers can bring new and smarter ways of working, innovation and new technologies and greater efficiencies.
We’ve trialled this approach while rebuilding Stoke Maintenance Delivery Unit (MDU). It’s an essential base for our engineers to deliver improvements for passengers in the area and desperately needs replacing. The builder will construct a new, modern ‘flatpack’ office, which is much cheaper, greener, and quicker to install. It will use a new product called structural insulated panels which save up to 60 per cent of CO2 emissions compared to other building materials.”
By putting work out to market in this way, and working with new suppliers, we will potentially save 30% on our £200m MDU portfolio.
To work on an electrified railway, our engineers must first turn off the power and make the site safe. It’s not as simple as flipping a switch – it’s a long, difficult and dangerous process, which involves walking to site and placing heavy kit on location, which eats into the work time.
We are now modernising that process by rolling out new trackside technology and hardware that will speed it up and make it safer.
High-tech control centres or ‘location cabinets’ are being installed next to the railway that will allow our engineers to turn off the power and make a site safe without having to go onto the track. Eventually, this hardware will work in conjunction with a mobile app and will save an average of 40mins per shift, meaning more work can get done, safely, and with less risk of overrunning.
This new technology and process will save £318m over CP6 and CP7.
We work with hundreds of other business around the country who help run the railway. We arrange safe access for their staff so they can run and maintain the equipment and services they provide for Network Rail and passengers.
Cornerstone help run our telecommunications services and have around 250 masts next to the railway which need regular maintenance to make sure they’re working correctly and providing a good mobile phone service.
We’ve worked with Cornerstone to trial a new process that reduces the amount of paperwork involved by 93% saving both organisations time and money. In doing so, we have reduced the average time it takes to complete low-risk and ground-level maintenance visits from 397 days to 93 days.
We saved approximately £40m in demolition and reconstruction costs, and avoided weeks of passenger disruption and train delays by using ‘electric-resistant paint’ – a new technology developed with the University of Southampton – to help make a bridge in Cardiff usable by new electric trains.
We’re replacing diesel trains with faster, greener, electric ones, and must install overhead wires and cables to run them. This old, Victorian bridge is too low to safely fit all the kit required. Ordinarily, this would force us to demolish it and rebuild it at a greater height. We do this to keep electric trains a safe distance away from the bridge as they pass underneath, and stop them from electrifying the bridge itself, or anything on it.
In this case however, we used a unique coating applied to the underside of the bridge – our ‘electric-resistant paint’ – alongside specially developed lineside kit including surge arrestors and insulated bridge arms, to insulate the bridge from electricity and make it safe for electric trains to pass under. We’re now developing the technology and investigating rolling it out nationally across a wide range of bridges. Using this technology in future electrification projects could save up to one third of the cost, and hugely reduce the amount of disruption by increasing the speed of delivery.