Network Rail – Britain’s biggest builder – is making it easier for private companies to invest in the railway.

On 30 January, Harriet Hepburn, corporate finance and business development director at Network Rail, spoke to delegates including representatives from investors, the government and the broader rail sector to explain how.

Network Rail is Open for Business

Demand for the railway has doubled in the past 20 years with almost five million passengers now using the network every day. Network Rail invests more than £130m in improvements for passengers each week – that’s 22% of the UK’s entire infrastructure spend.

With more people and more trains on the network than it was ever designed for, the success of growth brings some very real challenges, not least of which is the need for massive levels of investment to support and sustain it.

Over the past decade, rail infrastructure investment has amounted to more than £74bn. This funding has enabled enormously complex upgrades and delivered significant benefits for passengers.

Major projects include Thameslink Programme, the Great North Rail Project and the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme. Meanwhile, we have carried out landmark station redevelopments like Reading, Birmingham New Street and London Bridge.

Thameslink Programme and London Bridge station, Birmingham New Street station and Reading station

The government has earmarked a significant increase in capital for rail operations, renewals and maintenance in the next five years, but further third-party investment would enable even more projects.

New measures are making third-party investment easier:

As part of our Open for Business programme, we’ve carried out a major review of 400 of our most used and most important standards – essentially the rule book to running the railway – to make things easier, more cost effective and allow for new ideas and innovation:

A standard challenge process now allows third parties to suggest better ways of running the railway. For instance, British Steel suggested it could halve the cost of our overhead electrification masts without compromising effectiveness or safety. We’re now working with them to change that standard.

We’ve reformed our asset protection and optimisation (ASPRO) organisation – essentially our health and safety people. We’ve recruited a professional head and a head for each route to provide strategy and professionalisation; introduced company-wide standards to provide a unified service and rolled out service-level commitments and customer satisfaction surveys to help us improve.

Meanwhile, we’ve recruited a team of business development directors – one for each route – to secure investment for the railway and act as the first port of call for interested parties, guiding them through the process.

Our third-party funded projects:

Maghull North station

Maghull North station, a modern station with step-free access near Liverpool is a great example of how private investment can bring benefits to local communities. This work was fully funded by third parties and has so far supported 370 new homes, with further growth expected in the area.

Port of Felixstowe

Hutchison Ports, owner of the Port of Felixstowe, is partly funding the double-tracking of a 1.4km section of railway on the approach to the port to alleviate an infamous bottleneck. This will increase capacity by 10 freight trains a day. That’s the equivalent of 760 lorries a day, reducing road congestion and pollution, and improving reliability for passenger services.

Barking Riverside station

In London, we will build the new Barking Riverside station with full funding from the housing developer Barking Riverside and Transport for London. This will also enable us to build a 4km track extension of the Gospel Oak to Barking line. This will be the largest housing development in East London.

Find out more about our Open for Business programme