Mark Carne says he’s going to miss heading up Britain’s rail infrastructure manager. In February, he presented a £47 billion plan for CP6 which will focus on investment in maintenance and renewals to improve reliability for a growing network. It is a plan Mark is extremely proud of, but he won’t be the one to deliver it.
A couple of months ago, Mark announced his retirement and the search for his successor is underway. Now is the natural time to leave, he said.
“It’s been a huge privilege to lead this amazing organisation over the last few years,” said Mark, sat behind a few framed mementos of his proudest moments in charge, including photos of the reconstructed sea wall at Dawlish and Reading station – the first of several major station redevelopment schemes delivered during his time in charge.
We’re sat in Mark’s temporary office opposite Waterloo station. His regular office is being refurbished – not that he’s there that often. As chief exec, Mark spends most of his time travelling around the network, visiting different parts of the business in various parts of the country.
He described what it was like leaving the oil and gas industry to join Network Rail in 2013. “There’s no doubt the first couple of years were really challenging, coming into the control period as a declassified company, but over the last couple of years we’ve really seen the benefits of our strategy coming to fruition and real improvements in the company and the performance.”
The reclassification of Network Rail meant the organisation was suddenly unable to access the debt it previously had been able to. Put simply it didn’t have enough money to fund the programme ahead of it.
“And that was evident really from the first weeks of the control period,” said Mark. “You almost knew right from the get go that this was going to be a big problem but the scale of that I think only really emerged in the first year or so, and I look back on that as a pretty tough time.”
Despite the challenges, there have been many highlights. Mark praised his team and went on to list some of the achievements he is particularly proud of. Since the start of CP5, train accident risk has been reduced by more than 35 per cent and the number of people who are hurt on the railway has fallen by 37 per cent.
A common theme of Mark’s tenure has been the link between safety and business performance. “They’re not in conflict and the best companies deliver great performance and great safety performance,” said Mark.
“But it’s still the case that too many people get hurt in our industry and it’s still the case that people lose their lives at level crossings and that we have occasional very serious train near misses, so we’ve still got a long way to go in my view to really deliver the kind of safety culture that the industry as a whole needs.
“But I think we are making great progress, and I think we’ve got real ambitious plans for the future and I think I’ve got a team that will really carry this culture forward.”
Contractors are told if they can’t work safely, they can’t work for Network Rail. The figures would suggest that the supply chain has taken this message to heart.
“I would like to thank the contracting community because I think they embraced this message almost faster than Network Rail did. There have been really significant improvements in contractor workforce safety over the last four years. If you look at their safety performance trajectory compared to Network Rail’s performance improvement, the contractor market has improved faster than we have.”
Maintenance and renewals
A relatively small amount has been allocated to enhancement projects in CP6. The strategic business plan includes £18.5 billion for operations and maintenance – 25 per cent more than in CP5, £18.5 billion for renewals and £10.1 billion for enhancements.
Over the past few years, Network Rail has been responsible for iconic infrastructure projects like Birmingham New Street, London Bridge and Ordsall Chord, but its delivery record in CP5 hasn’t been spotless.
“We’ve achieved a huge amount together, and I think we’ve created this plan for CP6 that I’m really confident we’ll deliver,” said Mark, who openly admits that the challenges faced in CP5 were the result of having too many immature projects that couldn’t be accurately costed coming into the control period.
Network Rail has indicated that it won’t pursue any new enhancement projects in the first couple of years of the new control period, but it doesn’t mean Network Rail is out of the business of building game-changing infrastructure.
“I think we will still want to do those big and exciting projects but the funding mechanism is just different today. I don’t think people should look at CP6 and say ‘oh yeah there are no big projects anymore’ because the whole principle is that we will develop new ideas and new projects, and when those projects are mature we will then seek funding and if we get the funding then we’ll deliver them.”
The best job there is
Mark said he doesn’t have any immediate plans for his retirement, although he is looking forward to having some time to himself and some time with his family. However, he is open to opportunities which will allow him to stay in touch with an industry he’s come to love. As Mark puts it, he’s unlikely to become a “pipe and slippers person”.
It is the people he will miss most, he said, and he enjoys the job more today than at any other point.
“Of course I’m going to miss it,” said Mark. “It’s quite a difficult time in a way for me now because I’m not going to ease off. I’m going to be one of these people who runs absolutely to the last hour…. but I will miss it because it gets in your bloodstream. Anybody who works in the rail industry knows that it becomes a really important part of you.”
He added: “But I have to be responsible for the way the company operates and the five-year funding periods put a certain window on these sorts of moves and I think it’s the right thing to do to allow the person whose going to lead the organisation for the next five years to be in the seat before that period starts. Now is the right time to start the hunt for my successor.”
What words of advice does he have for his successor?
“Probably everybody knows that this is quite a challenging role. You need to be resilient. Resilience is probably the number one ingredient you have to have because when you’re in this job there’s a huge number of people who are constantly going to be criticising you or your organisation.
“So you have to be able to get up each morning, look yourself in the mirror if you like and say are you making a difference, are you making it better. If the answer to that is yes then that has to be enough satisfaction to keep you motivated and going because there is such a lot of negativity in the media and the political world around rail as a whole, but it’s the most amazing job. If you’re an engineer and you’re driven to want to make a difference, I think this is the best job there is.”
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