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All Together Now

Vertical integration makes a welcome return to the railways this month.

South West Trains and Network Rail are reuniting wheel and rail under the direction of genial SWT boss, Tim Shoveller. The new alliance will see staff from both companies working together under joint management to boost performance and cut costs.

Already the joint 24-hour integrated control centre at London Waterloo station is staffed by South West Trains and Network Rail ops teams. Planned single reporting lines will ensure greater cohesion. A single, senior team will eventually take charge of running trains and track.

The joint ten-point plan will deliver more punctual and reliable journeys on one of the busiest and most complex regions of the rail network. Further alliance frameworks are being set up between Network Rail and Abellio Greater Anglia, c2c, ScotRail, Northern Rail and Southeastern.

Says Sir David Higgins, chief executive, Network Rail, ‘Working more closely with the train operators, with decision making devolved to the front-line and better aligned incentives, will, I believe, bring substantial benefits. ‘The alliances will deliver a better service for passengers and freight users and at lower overall cost to the taxpayer.’

Stagecoach has long argued for the return of vertical integration in the south west. Says Tim Shoveller, ‘Running one of the busiest and most complex commuter rail networks in Europe is a challenge for us and Network Rail.

‘The volume of passengers using our rail network continues to grow, and just like the road network, it is particularly difficult when problems happen at busy times and at congested interchanges.’

When British Rail was sold off the railway infrastructure was made into a separate entity. Railtrack was put in charge of rail, signals and major structures. Train companies buy access to the railway.

The system has been widely criticised for engendering a blame culture between train operators and track authority over delays as well as splitting the staff loyalties.

The new system is in keeping with the McNulty report which called for much closer co-operation throughout the industry.

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