Rail infrastructure interface collaboration & joint working benefits for major capital projects
The development of a collaborative joint team structure for planning and implementation of rail interface works provides an effective and cost-efficient model which can be used to best effect across government extended arm organisations or on third party schemes.
Background and industry context
Conventional railways have established processes for managing projects that interface with their operational railway. These works are usually classified either as Third Party or Outside Party works, and the conventional railways have published standards that control how these interface works are to be managed in a manner that reduces any undue interference with the operational railway.
The largest conventional railway in the UK is that which is owned and maintained by Network Rail. The function within Network Rail that manages interfacing projects is known as Asset Protection. Asset Protection teams exist across the network managing a broad range of interface works from fencing a neighbour’s garden adjacent to the railway to managing structures built adjacent, under or over the operational railway
However, when the interfacing works require modifications or renewal to Network Rail assets the company will adopt a different approach in addition to the standard Asset Protection model.
Network Rail assets that require modification or renewal to enable the High Speed Two (HS2) project are bridges, mainline and sidings trackwork, signalling systems, overhead electrification systems, maintenance depots, access points and telecommunication systems.
Generally, by agreement these works can be undertaken by either Network Rail or the Interfacing project. However, alterations to railway safety critical assets requires specialist experience and Network Rail is likely to insist that they manage these works.
The HS2 project interface works undertaken by Network Rail were branded ‘On Network Works’ or ONW and a bespoke department was created within Network Rail to interface with HS2 and manage Network Rail’s supply chain designing and delivering the works.
The ONW approach was novel for an interface third party project but deemed necessary due to the extent of works to Network Rail assets. The commercial and contractual arrangements utilised for the provision of the works was to adopt the use of industry standard agreements, including Development Services and Implementation Agreements.
The approach to managing the works, the agreements to be utilised and the commercial arrangements was set out in a Protective Provisions Agreement (PPA) which was created during the Hybrid Bill process for HS2 Phase 1 and subsequently signed by the Secretary of State for Transport and Network Rail in 2015.
In 2014 however Network Rail was reclassified as an arm’s length central government body and therefore became a member of the Department for Transport wider ‘Family’, which includes HS2 Ltd. This reclassification and any opportunities that this may have presented were not assessed at the time and included in the PPA.
The Network Rail delivered ONW scope was stated in the PPA and based on the designs used for the Hybrid Bill. ONW were enabling works for the HS2 main works and/or Stations which at the time, prior to appointment of the HS2 contractors, was in outline design.
Nevertheless, the ONW was required to be scoped and delivered to achieve early works milestones. Following commencement of the ONW programme the requirements for each package of ONW and programme milestones changed several times as the main works and stations design developed. At each of these variations the ONW teams had to assess the impact of the change and then be instructed accordingly to incorporate the change. This created an environment of constant change and uncertainty.
The project teams were also frustrated by the excessive time it would take to complete the necessary Governance, in both organisations, before any work could commence. The use of and amendments necessary to standard agreements, Network Rail supply chain contracts and the risk-averse principles adopted in Network Rail made moving swiftly through project stages cumbersome. Indeed, it was quite normal to expect up to a 6-month interval to move between stages of the project, i.e., Option selection to outline design.
The uncertainty around project scope and milestones, the inefficient processes for managing governance and lack of formal incentives for time and cost project delivery created tension between the two organisations which manifested an adversarial relationship.
The frustrations around project governance were accepted and working groups were established in 2018 to seek to make improvements, accepting at this time that with the support of the Department for Transport (DfT) benefits of being part of the DfT could be explored. The Implementation Partnership Agreement (IPA) was created in 2018, signed by HS2, NR and the DfT setting out improved processes for governance and commercial contract management.
In 2019 the CEOs of both companies directed a closer working mandate with joint teams and co-location established. This mandate from the CEOs provided the backdrop for a reorganisation of the joint team and the creation of a joint Director in 2020.
The Director is incentivised by both companies to manage the relationship and deliver the ONW works in line with the main works programme whilst taking into consideration Network Rail commitments as a conventional railway operator and asset manager.
The reorganisation of the joint team and arrival of a joint Director triggered the change to the relationship and challenge to the previous adversarial culture. The change enabled both organisations’ requirements to be equitably considered whilst creating a new culture incentivised to better deliver the works.
Outcomes and learning
The implementation of a central function accountable to both interfacing organisations has enabled a culture that can deliver interface works effectively and efficiently. When the planning and delivery of interface works takes account of both organisations’ priorities a collaborative culture, with a can-do attitude, is created.
In this case with Network Rail and HS2 Ltd, the benefactor of the collaborative culture is ultimately the UK taxpayer, which through the DfT funds both organisations. Any delay to the works or disruption to the operational railway can be minimised by adopting this approach.
The jointly appointed staff working within the collaborative environment are required to impartially understand and resolve conflicting requirements. This open and honest consideration reinforces trust between the interface organisations.
Other public funded organisations with significant interface works could benefit from this collaborative joint team initiative. However, in principle there is nothing preventing this approach being considered for non-public funded works that have significant interface with transport authorities or utility organisations.
Consider early in the programme scheme development whether a joint team structure would benefit the interface works, particularly where the works have the potential to make or break the programme. Ensure that executive level support for the collaboration is available in both interfacing organisations as the team may need to escalate particularly difficult conflicting issues.
The relationship between two interfacing companies can be frustrated when both sides of the interface concentrate on protecting their own interests. The implementation of a joint team can be used to establish a collaboration that altruistically manages the interface, seeking to understand conflicts and priorities of each organisation.
The rail interface relationship between Network Rail and HS2 Ltd has been significantly improved following the creation of the collaborative joint team. Members of the joint teams are now empowered to consider and determine the best industry solutions when working through rail interface designs and implementation.