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Not so Shaw

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‘Steady as she goes,’ is the underlying message of the Shaw Report into the future of Network Rail. No change of ownership is envisaged. The author herself is also going – Nicola Shaw respected head of HS1 will be alighting at the next stop for a new job as chief executive of National Grid Plc.

The Shaw Report rules out the break up and privatisation of Network Rail. The railway is a national asset and should be retained and expanded as such. Shaw recommends devolving further power to route managers to increase accountability and efficiency – a continuation of the devolution principle instituted by Sir David Higgins, former chief executive of Network Rail.

This will catalyse a greater focus on the needs of passengers and freight forwarders, which, the report argues, should sit right at the heart of the rail industry.

Pulse beat

Shaw urges greater clarity about the role of government as paymaster and customer of Network Rail. Moreover, the DfT needs to develop a 30-year vision for the railway as it more clearly defines its relationship with Network Rail. The railway needs long-term goal setting based on outcomes rather than specific projects. Aspirational goals should be aligned with those of the new National Infrastructure Commission.

A new route, or focus of management, in the North should be created. Greater capacity for freight should be encouraged. If customers are at the heart of the industry then people are its pulse beat. Railway staff, old and new, are one of the industry’s greatest assets, says Shaw. The railway needs to do more to support and expand its workforce.

Local private sector investment in railways is to be welcomed. Ideas range from letting a concession, or involving suppliers in technological investment. Routes should also be empowered to find local sources of funding and finance. These include property developers and local businesses who stand to benefit from new or additional rail capacity.

Silver bullets

Reaction has been a general sigh of relief. Shaw has not gone native as her new appointment proves, but has talked to many rail staff and backed the rail industry in its current endeavours. Shaw has managed with studious and informed insight to capture the verve and imagination which informs work at all levels in the industry.

It’s not a breathless document but a quiet implication that the railway is best run by railway people and not politicians. Shaw says there are no magic silver bullets to resolve the riddle of funding and revenue; a combination of ideas will work best.

Rail chiefs broadly support the conclusions Shaw draws. Mark Carne said, ‘I’m pleased that she has concluded that the reforms we are introducing in Network Rail are the right ones. We are committed to putting passengers and customers at the heart of what we do, and our devolved business model will put decisions in the routes, closer to the passengers and train companies.

‘I also endorse her desire to see more private finance coming into the railways. We have been successful with this in the past, and I consider that more private money and funding from the people who will benefit from railway improvements is a sensible way to deliver a bigger and better railway for the nation.’ Carne went on to promise, ‘We’ll work with the Department for Transport as they now consider these recommendations.’

Reaction and relief

The rail freight sector is pleased, too. Maggie Simpson, Rail Freight Group executive director, said, ‘We are pleased that Nicola Shaw has listened to the voice of the freight industry and made balanced recommendations which will support growth in our sector. We look forward to working with Network Rail and Government to develop the details of these proposals over the coming months.’

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, added his support, ‘The review acknowledges the importance of continuing to create a bigger, better railway for Britain. Our biggest challenge is to plan and build for the ever-growing demand for rail, increasing capacity and modernising to provide more and better services which meet the needs of passengers, freight customers and the economy.’

Return of the red pen

However, Shaw warns that financing Network Rail needs rethinking. The arrangements for Network Rail’s financial control, incentives, accountability and governance are no longer fit for purpose, the report says. The public- sector infrastructure organisation operates in a resource constrained environment, and current arrangements do not provide sufficient focus on financial discipline.

The report marks a high point for Nicola Shaw who has led High Speed 1 Ltd since 2011. Before that she was an executive director of FirstGroup in charge of the European bus division. She’s also on the board of Aer Lingus.

Says Rob Holden CBE, chairman of HS1, ‘During her time at HS1, Nicola has proved to be a dedicated and inspiring leader, developing HS1’s position to become a central part of the UK’s transport infrastructure, respected for both trusted delivery and continual innovation… The board and I thank her for her work and extend to her our very best wishes for the future,’ – a view seconded by many in the industry.

Photo: Sam Lane Photography.