How Network Rail significantly increased performance

Rogier 't Hooft (links) en Thomas Beerepoot (midden) op werklocatie

Network Rail

Network Rail is the organization responsible for managing the railways of England, Wales and Scotland, with three main pillars; track maintenance, keeping the routes safe and innovation and digitization of the trains.

Marc Carne had just been appointed CEO of Network Rail and saw projects go over budget or miss schedules. He wanted to work for this, which was not possible with the existing large consultants.

At the highest level of the Executive Board, we looked at the difference in interests between the short term (making trains run on time) and the long term (track maintenance and renewal). We have coordinated the management of this at Board of Directors level. We also supervised Network Rail's two most difficult projects, made them successful and extracted a number of lessons that the organization could then apply to all projects.

A step change change in the way projects are managed and a significant increase in performance.

How do you reconcile seemingly opposing interests?

When Marc Carne was appointed CEO of Network Rail, he faced a huge challenge. Network Rail is the UK's rail operator responsible for all of the UK's rail network. With a budget of 42 billion pounds per year, they ensure the maintenance and electrification of routes where diesel is still driven and digital innovation. Their responsibility is to keep the entire network safe and ensure that all trains run on time. Unlike in the Netherlands, for example, where contracts with users of the track are stipulated, in England there is extreme competition and companies that buy a concession to use a certain section of the track. They only have a few years to recoup their concession. So there is no direct interest in doing maintenance. The pressure to keep trains running punctually and to implement the full timetable is much greater.

Marc Carne found an organization in which projects often took much longer than planned and budgets were overwritten. He already worked with the big consultants. They came up with great advice summarized in huge documents. While the organization is actually a hands-on implementation organization, outside the head office in London. He started calling around with fellow CEOs and asked if there was a party that could take a more hands-on approach to his challenge. Bolster was mentioned there. We then got in touch with them, Marc Carne and Steve Featherstone (Network Rail's performance manager).

When we heard the issue, we summarized it as: how do you reconcile seemingly opposing interests? How do you ensure that the trains run on time while maintenance and renewal continues?

The performance of two projects was doubled.

We have proposed to supervise the two most difficult projects of the railway. One project is an electrification of a line from London to the west coast. The other project was for a Network Rail business unit that renews the ballast under the track.

The entire track rests on concrete girders with stones underneath that provide strength and that water can easily wash away. Because trains run over the track and cause vibrations, the stones become porous. So once every few years they have to be replaced. They have a special train that is more than a kilometer long for this. That train, as it were, lifts the entire track, removes all stones and replaces them with new stones. This is the so-called high output put system. Both projects, electrification and high output, could only take place at night when no trains were running on the routes according to the timetable.

By working with the different parts and the subcontractor, we created a new approach with them that accelerated the start-up and break-down of a nightly maintenance or renewal program. As a result, we were able to double the performance of the two projects.

At the highest level in the organization, we looked at the parts that were responsible for running trains on time and maintenance with the associated KPIs. In terms of management, we have aligned this from the Board of Directors. The learnings from the two projects were then integrated into how the entire Network Rail organization manages projects.

Here an organization from the highest level to the people who carry out maintenance on the track were connected. The management from the highest level was linked to a way of working and setting up projects at implementation level.

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