Abandon Stations – Build Machines

16 06 2012

Reflecting on the Infrarail event in May, it was refreshing to hear so many suppliers and constructors sounding upbeat about the UK rail industry and discover more about the tidal wave of change Network Rail are going through to become a more agile and transparent organisation.

Let me explain.  Simon Kirby, Managing Director – Investment Projects at Network Rail delivered a powerful keynote speech which not only gave direction for suppliers, but was clearly marking out a route map for successful ‘supplier engagement and Lean Project Delivery’.

Apart from spelling out the way forward to build ‘constructible designs’; Network Rail we are told are forming its own infrastructure contracting organisation, either to fulfill its own contracts (in the UK or globally) or perhaps even to compete against an existing supplier base – which is a radical change of policy.

Since the McNulty report was published, there has been much talk about changing the status quo of how major rail infrastructure projects are let and recommendations on how they should be managed.  The goal, to deliver projects, cheaper, faster and safer.

Further to this, Network Rail has launched an initiative to introduce intelligent infrastructure across the network. Real time data collected from assets installed on the network will facilitate a greater control of fault diagnostics, maintenance planning and improve performance exponentially.

Is Network Rail abandoning Stations in favour of Machines?  What I’m suggesting is with the advent of more intelligent assets in our Stations, such as Kings Cross and St Pancras (London, UK) which are now bristling with microchips and intelligence; there is far greater management and control of systems, security, passenger flow and lean asset maintenance.  In my view we are effectively we are building large machines, rather than filling a [Victorian] building with dumb assets.  Plus most new infrastructure projects these days are based upon more constructible, modular builds.  The trick is to build most of the new infrastructure off site, thus reducing the impact on the environment and disruption on Station.  Benefits include speed of introduction of new assets in a controlled sequence, the output being an assured handover, needing fewer possessions.

The keynote presentations delivered at Infrarail 2012 are available for download here.

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