Network Rail is the national not-for-dividend company that manages, maintains and renews railway infrastructure, such as track, tunnels, signalling, bridges and level crossings.
It was set up after the failure of Railtrack, a private company that was held responsible for fatal train crashes at Hatfield, Ladbroke Grove and Potters Bar due to its profit-driven cost-cutting approach to rail maintenance and renewals and the complex array of badly managed sub-contracts that it let.
The government wants to dismantle the Network Rail model and return it to private ownership and control.
Already we are seeing Network Rail breaking up into regional units and forming alliances under the management of train operating companies, such as South West Trains. The government wants this to go further, calling for full ‘vertical integration’ of track and train operation through route franchises, in effect handing over chunks of Network Rail to the train operating companies.
The government is also calling for more privatisation of Network Rail through the letting of infrastructure management concessions to private providers on many of its routes. All this despite the proven benefits of bringing delivery in-house, where Network Rail made savings of £400m following the in-sourcing of its maintenance workforce.
All of these options not only add more fragmentation, complexity and multiple interfaces that increase costs and confuse responsibilities but this also heralds a return to the profit-motive in the management of safety-critical areas such as maintenance, renewals and signalling. We are seeing the creation of multiple regional Railtracks, with all the safety implications that entails.
In addition to this restructuring, Network Rail will continue to cut its own maintenance, signalling and renewals workforce in order to meet efficiency savings by 2019, with over 6,000 jobs planned to go.