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Last edited 16 Feb 2022
5 top priorities for reforming Britain's rail network
The government argues the reforms will make operating Britain’s railways simpler and more collaborative by putting passengers and freight first, and supporting long-term national economic, environmental and social goals.
 Getting infrastructure planning and delivery right
Achieving the strategic objectives set out in the WISP will require the delivery of major infrastructure projects which span a development time of years or even decades, but often cost more or take longer than initial estimates outline.
ICE has published a paper setting out recommendations for limiting overruns, including measures to avoid scope creep and retroactive changes, and awarding contracts based on a cost estimate range, using a should-cost estimate as a reference point.
The paper also argued for a shift in thinking around what constitutes success, quoting polling that shows that the public would support attaching more weight to the whole-life benefits of projects – be they economic, social or environmental – rather than focusing on achieving lowest capital cost in delivery.
Nevertheless, ICE’s work on Covid-19 and the new normal identified that long-term infrastructure planning should still be driven by existing long-term challenges, including population growth, rebalancing the economy and cutting carbon emissions.
Given these demand uncertainties, intelligent use of scenario planning will be vital, with operators having to take a more adaptive approach and make the best use of data gathering and analysis on which to base their decisions.
 Achieving financial sustainability
Any long-term reduction in passengers risks causing a spiral of decline whereby lower revenues force operators to cut services or increase fares, and public transport becomes both less attractive and less affordable.
- A reasonable amount of stability and resilience,
- Flexibility to scale with demand for public transport in times of significant growth,
- A diverse array of revenue sources, and
- Public acceptance.
 Prioritising climate mitigation and resilience
With these emissions deriving primarily from the use of petrol and diesel in road transport, there is an opportunity for the rail sector provided it takes decisive action to enable modal shift for passengers and freight operators.
The Climate Change Committee has called for a 90% reduction in surface transport emissions by 2050, and set out an evidence-based pathway for achieving reducing emissions from rail by around 55% by 2035.
At the same time, the impact of climate damage on rail infrastructure and services, which is already significant, is likely to worsen as the climate changes and extreme weather events become more common. Infrastructure is undergoing pressures that, for the most part, it was not designed to withstand.
 Contributing to ‘levelling up’
The recently published Levelling Up White Paper outlines that, by 2030, local public transport connectivity across the country will be significantly closer to the standards of London, with improved services, simpler fares and integrated ticketing.
However, delivering on its ambitious vision will require substantial change, which the Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands appears to fall short of, since it scales back many of the Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) proposals in favour of quick wins and upgrading current lines.
To get ‘levelling up’ right, there needs to be a strong role for those on the ground, such as subnational transport bodies, and further consultation on what the long-term challenges are so that the infrastructure sector can deliver solutions.
- Aligning net zero with the levelling-up agenda.
- ICE articles on Designing Buildings.
- Insights into Northern Powerhouse Rail.
- Levelling up the infrastructure agenda.
- Northern Powerhouse discussion.
- Northern Powerhouse transport blueprint.
- The Institution of Civil Engineers.
- The need for an integrated railway in the Midlands and North.
- What does the Northern Powerhouse mean for us?
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