Network Rail, New Western Route opens for business

Separated from Wales, the new Western route will become leaner and more responsive to meet new demands and opportunities especially brought on by electrification.

The new Network Rail Western is created as part of Network Rail’s national devolution drive to give local management the power to make independent funding decisions. Therefore decisions made will become more relevant to the needs of local customers and passengers, while delivering a more affordable railway.

Network Rail Western will be aiming to reduce costs and create better value for money, so that the savings could be reinvested into further enhancing the railway in South West of England.

The new business unit also has its sights set on boosting rail capacity in Western, especially in Bristol, where there is an immediate need for growth. The city has one of the highest forecast growth in rail passenger demand at around 44% by the end of the decade.

This forecast has recently been revised from 41% after taking into account the ‘sparks effect’ from electrification and the indicative new services introduced through government’s Intercity Express Programme, which will reduce journey time between London and Bristol by around 22mins.

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Patrick Hallgate, Network Rail Western’s new route managing director said: “The next decade is an exciting and challenging period with passengers on the Western route set to see great improvements. We have a big task ahead and devolution is a step in the right direction to enable us to achieve our performance and efficiency targets, whilst seizing the opportunities to drive local economy with these major investments.

“Infrastructure investment is a key economic driver and the rail industry is a growth sector that can be tapped into. Through devolution, we will become leaner, more responsive and stronger in our presence locally and this means we will be better placed to work with local stakeholders, including city councils and local enterprise partnerships, to share our expertise and gather strengths to explore growth opportunities and help local economy thrive.”

In response to the growth in Bristol, Network Rail Western sees potential in redeveloping the land and buildings around Bristol Temple Meads to make room for more platforms, better car parking and an integrated transport hub, easing congestion and significantly improving the station environment. To improve passengers’ experience further, it also aspires to enhance the railway between Bristol Temple Meads and Filton Abbey Wood to improve performance and increase capacity whilst also improving journey times.

The business case for this comprehensive strategy, which also aligns with West of England Local Enterprise Partnership’s plan for the enterprise zone, is currently being put together by the Western team, with contributions from key local leaders, for further discussions with the Department for Transport.

Colin Skellet, Chair of the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “We welcome the announcement of the new devolved structure and the commitment by Network Rail for major investment in rail infrastructure. The investments already announced by Network Rail, including electrification of the line from Paddington, will add significantly to the attractiveness of the West of England as a place to do business.

“The new devolved arrangements provide an ideal opportunity for joint working particularly on the redevelopment of Temple Meads Station to provide an iconic European-standard entry to Bristol. We will also want to work jointly on the development of the local rail network which is essential to ensure sustained economic growth for the West of England.”

By the end of 2014, Network Rail Western also sets to achieve at least 93% in punctuality, by tackling cable thefts and implement a robust 7-day railway strategy to minimise disruption during major improvement work.

Network Rail Western will be spending around £400m by 2013 to operate, renew and enhance the 995miles of railway in Western. This is on top of the £4.5bn investment secured to transform the Great Western main line into the most advanced intercity urban railway by 2017 – this investment includes re-signalling, electrification and Reading re-modelling.

Network Rail Western’s workforce is made up of 1700 people. Patrick Hallgate previously managed the Anglia route and more recently, was driving the national re-signalling and electrification strategy.

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