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What’s the milling train and how will it help us save £3.5bn?

We’re aiming to save £3.5bn by 2024 by maximising value and working more efficiently.

The rail milling train, which we use for essential track maintenance, is part of that effort, which we hope will lead to less disruption for passengers as well as better value for taxpayers.


Replacing damaged rail is expensive, time-consuming and requires lots of staff on-site. We now have the option to use a dedicated engineering train to improve existing rail.

Replacing track can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. To replace the quarter-mile stretch of track shown in the video would have cost £100,000. By using the rail milling train instead, we made the rails as good as new for just 20 percent of that cost.

How does it work?

The rail milling train renews track by grinding away the damaged top layer of steel on the rail. It has wheels with hundreds of cutting tips, which spin to shave off small pieces of rail. Doing this slowly means the train consistently shaves off all the defects as it passes. A polishing head then ensures the renewed rail gives passenger and freight trains a smooth journey.

We estimate this machine, which we started using in June 2018, will save us £80m by 2024. We have about 1,000 initiatives like this, which will bring our efficiency savings to a total of £3.5bn.

Why is improving efficiency important?

More passengers and trains are using the railway than ever before. In fact, the number of people travelling by rail in Britain has doubled in the past 20 years, meaning our stations and platforms are dealing with more passengers than they were ever designed for.

We must continue to develop and build the railway to keep up with this demand. Recognising the need for investment, the government entrusted us with a budget of £42bn for our current five-year budgeting and planning period, which runs from 2019 to 2024.

We’ve explored our options and have committed to safely delivering a better value railway through the implementation of a company-wide efficiency portfolio.

The approximately 1,000 initiatives we have identified cover 23 efficiency areas where we’re able to do more for less money. Over our five-year planning period we will squeeze every penny of value out of every pound invested, so we can reinvest savings for passengers.

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