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Sweeping new reforms to how railway projects are run – cutting cost, internal bureaucracy and red tape – are making Britain’s railways more attractive commercially to investors and builders, meaning passengers and taxpayers could see more improvements in the future, paid for by other organisations.  

Taxpayer funded Network Rail is beginning to embed the enabling processes of its industry-wide Open for Business programme, making it easier for other organisations – including the private sector – to invest in and build on the railway. The programme has now completed its final commitments made in response to the Hansford Review meaning investors and builders will soon find it quicker, easier and more efficient to deal with Network Rail.

Brand new service level commitments

Committed to driving efficiencies even further and making it easier for investors and builders, for the first time Network Rail is embedding service level commitments by which other organisations can hold it to account. Officially Europe’s safest railway, it falls to Network Rail’s asset protection and optimisation (ASPRO) teams to make sure any work on or near the railway is done safely and to the right standards. By having these new service levels in place, third party promoters of projects on the railway can know what to expect from Network Rail’s service and when to expect it by. Network Rail worked with and consulted wider industry colleagues, including AMEY in a special advisory capacity to formulate service levels for their ASPRO teams to work to. Full details of the new service level commitments and results showing how they’ve been adhered to, can be found on Network Rail’s Open for Business pages.

New service level commitments allow investors and builders to hold Network Rail to account

New asset protection and optimisation (ASPRO) customer surveys; early results show 71% are satisfied

Alongside the new service level commitments, for the first time, Network Rail’s increasingly customer-focused approach is being bolstered by the embedding of customer satisfaction surveys for investors and builders who have historically viewed ASPRO teams as gatekeepers and difficult to work with. Once enough responses are gathered, it will allow Network Rail to provide a baseline and benchmark for how it’s ASPRO teams are performing. Although these are just initial, early results from a small sample who have replied so far, it has been revealed today that almost three quarters of the external companies working near the railway and with Network Rail are satisfied with their services. London North Western route (LNW) has the most satisfied customers (88%) while Wessex route has the least satisfied (57%). Network Rail has stressed it aims to improve upon these numbers. Results of the initial customer satisfaction surveys received so far can be found on Network Rail’s Open for Business pages.

Clarifying the risks to an investor

Network Rail has looked at 41 separate categories of risk that could cause problems, delays or extra cost to a project on the railway and analysed where it can take ownership of that risk, or made it clear who will cover it. It’s important an investor or developer know the risks they’re responsible for when building on or by the railway, as they differ greatly than when building on the high street, highway or any other environment. An ‘industry risk fund’ has been established to enable Network Rail to take the risk and fund liabilities when projects encounter certain unforeseen industry related problems. The ‘default risk allocation table’ is available from Network Rail’s Open for Business pages and details each potential risk and who is responsible for it – Network Rail, the industry risk fund, the sponsoring customer or the enhancement contractor.

When projects encounter unforeseen problems an ‘industry risk fund’ is available

Giving the industry a voice – challenging standards

To encourage greater innovation, cost efficiency and third party funding into the railway, in April last year Network Rail asked their suppliers, contractors and stakeholders to propose more efficient ways of both enhancing and maintaining the railway if it will bring value for money and innovation. Network Rail opened-up its ‘standards’ – the detailed requirements that underpin how the railway and the delivery of improvement projects are run – for feedback and allowed other organisations to challenge them. Network Rail said it has received 31 detailed suggestions to date and believes some could potentially result in improved safety, clarity, innovation, efficiency, and cost avoidance. A full list of the 31 standards challenged so far can now be found on Network Rail’s Open for Business pages. Repeating its call for other organisations to proactively suggest improvements to encourage innovation while reducing both complexity and cost, the infrastructure owner and operator also introduced a series of incentives to encourage challenges and hopes they’ll receive many more.

31 standards have been challenged so far which could result in cost avoidance


We’ve been breaking down barriers to make it easier for other organisations to invest in and build on the railway. We’ve now completed, on time, the final commitments we made in our Open for Business response to the Hansford Review, the key enabling activities needed for us to achieve our outcomes of attracting more third party investment into the railway, increasing competition, reducing costs and improving customer and supplier satisfaction. 

Many of these commitments are already starting to bear fruit, including: delivering increased transparency of, and more consistent performance by, our ASPRO teams; closer collaboration with our suppliers to encourage creativity and innovation in delivery through challenging standards to enable cost reduction; greater clarity and sign-posting for third parties in engaging with Network Rail from our enhanced website.

These are some of the solid foundations we are building on to further help our route businesses transition to and embed new ways of working so the full expected benefits from being open for business can be realised, not just for Network Rail, but for the whole rail industry.

David Ollerhead, Network Rail’s Open for Business programme director


 The progress Network Rail has made in developing its Open for Business programme is very welcome. The organisation has taken clear steps to becoming more business-focused and open to third party investment in rail projects, as recommended by the Hansford Review. This is a shift the rail supply community wholeheartedly supports, and which rail businesses are keen to get involved in.

Last year, the Railway Industry Association was delighted to partner with Network Rail in developing a process by which unnecessarily onerous standards can be challenged. So it is encouraging to see that over 30 standards have been reviewed so far, which will ultimately help spur collaboration, innovation and cost-effective delivery, benefiting all those who use, build and fund our rail network.

David Clarke, technical director at the Railway Industry Association (RIA)



An example challenge – reducing the cost of overhead line masts

British Steel challenged various designs of Network Rail’s overhead line masts, believing the current design standard mean some masts are fabrication intensive, use higher cost products and require structural steel not currently produced or stocked in the UK. Network Rail is evaluating and progressing this challenge through a series of collaborative workshops, and believes the potential benefits could include:

  • UK economic boost, helping increase Network Rail’s UK-sourced steel to over 97 per cent
  • Locally sourced materials, reduced lead time, reduced carbon footprint
  • Lower manufacturing, material, and transportation costs
  • Potential for up to 50 per cent cost saving for certain designs
  • At this stage, a more specific cost avoidance figure cannot accurately be provide as it depends on a number of future variables

Our rail and construction teams have formed a close working relationship with Network Rail, who’ve an excellent record of supporting UK manufacturing. By working in partnership, and accepting challenges like this, we hope to make it easier for Network Rail to source more high quality, cost effective products manufactured in the UK.

John Austin, British Steel’s Network Rail Account Manager

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