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RAILTEX 2011


Does McNulty herald a new era in the relationship between Network Rail and its suppliers, or is the track operator already one step ahead? Michael Thame talks to Network Rail’s director of investment projects, Simon Kirby, to find out.


It


is fair to say the relationship between Network Rail and its suppliers has


been fraught at times. This was hinted at in Sir Roy McNulty’s value for money review, in which he described the not-for-dividend owner and operator of Britain’s rail infra- structure as being seen as at times arrogant and over-centralised.


To an observer those terms constitute harsh assessment of the company, and for some contractors at least, gives credence to some of the difficulties they may have voiced in the past.


To its credit, Network Rail’s top people pub- licly accepted much of the criticism from the report. Indeed at Railtex 2011, chair- man Rick Haythornthwaite “welcomed” it, adding that the company’s board “had already felt… it was imperative to change internally”.


Supplier relationships


This seemed to herald a change in Network Rail’s approach to its suppliers, a question I was keen to put to Simon Kirby, the com- pany’s director of investment projects. But first I asked him whether the relationship with suppliers had already changed in re- cent years.


“It has evolved over time,” Kirby said. “If you go back to when Network Rail was formed we had pretty much every sort of supplier relationship you could think of and probably some you would not want to think of. In the early days we spent a lot of time simplifying the relationships, prob- ably putting a lot more emphasis on Net- work Rail to do the front-end engineering and definition.


“We have matured and the supply base has matured. We have now much stronger rela- tionships, that we are building on to look at how we now partner genuinely with organi- sations in a collaborative way where they are not just bringing innovation to our de- signs and helping us to deliver, but there is


24 | rail technology magazine Jun/Jul 11 © Paul Bigland


much more mutual trust so we do not have the same element of man to man marking that we had in the past.


“In other words we are genuinely in part- nership with people with the most efficient way of delivering rather than an inefficient approach.”


Early involvement


Kirby had already given a speech to the accumulated Railtex visitors outlining his approach to suppliers and the direction of travel, which he says is to get them in-


“If you look at the example of London Bridge, in the design process we are going to have all of the contracting partners who will be delivering and instructing the work in the design team.


volved much earlier in major infrastructure projects.


“That is one of the fundamental things we want to achieve,” he advised. “It is about Network Rail Projects, this new business, focussing much further up the life cycle of the development; optioneering, outline de- sign and engaging partners.


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