Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline brings visibility of future major projects

Ordsall Chord - a major enhancement delivered during the last Control Period.

The Department for Transport has finally confirmed its Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline (RNEP) that should have been in place for 1 April 2019.

That was the date that Network Rail’s Control Period 6 (CP6) started – it runs until 31 March 2024.

In previous control periods, the funding Network Rail received from the Department for Transport (DfT) and regulator the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) had to cover everything – maintenance, renewals and enhancements.

However, including enhancements, which can include major, long-term projects such as Great Western Electrification and the Edinburgh Glasgow Enhancements Programme, was fraught with difficulty.

To have a project included in a Control Period budget, or determination, the cost of that project had to go into the proposals up to two years ahead of the start of the control period. If the work was due to take place, say, in years four and five of that CP, then the project cost would have to calculated four of five years of the work commencing – often before the designs were even complete.

It was a situation that led to miscalculations, underestimations and then surprise and accusations when projects overran and went over budget.

So for CP6, the decision was taken to do things differently. Maintenance and renewals would go into the Orr/DfT determination, but enhancements – the major projects that improve the railway’s performance – would be funded on a case-by-case basis. Having decided that a project was necessary, Network Rail would do a preliminary design and come up with a calculated cost which would then be offered to DfT and the Treasury. If they agreed, then the money would be made available and the work added to the enhancements pipeline.

Sometimes, a bid could get rejected if the DfT thought a project wasn’t needed at that time or if the Treasury had spent its funds in other areas such as schools or hospitals.  But if a project was accepted, then Network Rail was confident it could then work to budget and time.

This, then, is the process adopted for CP6. A total of £35 billion was allocated to Network Rail for maintenance, renewals and general operations in England and Wales.

In addition, there were enhancement projects already underway that had to be funded, bringing the total up to £48 billion.  Plus £5 billion for Scotland, and the total is £53 billion.

But that still doesn’t include any new enhancements.  Network Rail was already developing a range of projects for CP6, and they went into the bidding process for funding.

When CP6 started on 1 April 2019, Network Rail and its supply chain was already working on those £13 billion of enhancements that bridge the control period changeover. However, the next tranche of work, the enhancements that should have started in the first year of the new control period, never happened.  Instead, they were bogged down in the DfT/Treasury system.

On 15 October 2019, trade body the Railway Industry Association launched its Rail Enhancements Clock, showing how long it had been since the DfT assured the Transport Select Committee that it would publish the enhancements pipeline. It was immediately set to one year and 25 days, the time since that pledge was given.

Darren Caplan, RIA

RIA chief executive Darren Caplan said: “The railway industry has now been waiting more than a year to see what rail enhancement projects the Government has planned for CP6. That is why we launched our SURE campaign – ‘Show Us the Rail Enhancements’ – last month, to draw attention to this lack of enhancements visibility.

“Each day that passes is another day where the industry cannot plan to deliver rail upgrade projects, another day the recommendations of the Transport Select Committee report into investing in the railway goes unheeded, and another day the Cabinet Office’s own guidelines, published just this year, which says that all Government departments should publish their supplier procurement pipelines, are not implemented.

“We can only continue to urge that forward enhancements pipeline projects under consideration be published as soon as possible, safeguarding railway industry jobs, investment, and the health of the rail sector more widely.”

Coincidentally (?), one day later, the DfT eventually released its Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline. This list the 58 projects that are currently under review at the DfT. It does not include those projects that have already been approved and passed on to Network Rail.

The process

Every project under consideration goes through several stages. There are five decision-making processes or gateways, and then five actions resulting from them.

The first, the Decision to Initiate, accepts the scheme into the pipeline and unlocks funding for a Strategic Outline Business Case (SOBC) to determine the merits of the suggested project. Currently, 23 proposals are listed as being at this stage of the process.

The Decision to Develop then builds on the SOBC, authorising development work towards a single viable option and putting together the Outline Business Case. A further 22 projects are currently under development.

Once the Outline Business Case has been developed and accepted, the Decision to Design permits technical development and ensures that the desired outputs can be delivered through the option being progressed. 13 projects are currently at this stage.

After all this, the final decision by the DfT is the Decision to Deliver, at which stage the project is funded and passed over to Network Rail for delivery. These projects no longer appear in the DfT’s RNEP but are instead listed in Network Rail’s Enhancements Delivery Plan. Currently, 19 projects are listed of which six are complete and two subject to change.

Once Network Rail has delivered the project, the final gateway is the Decision to Accept, after which the project is deployed and becomes an integral part of the mainstream railway.


Further reading:
Department for Transport: Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline (RNEP)
Network Rail: Enhancements Delivery Plan

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