Manchester Victoria station

Network Rail to appoint 'Railway tsar for the North'

Network Rail has announced big changes to its regional organisational structure including the creation of a new team and managing director responsible for investment projects where Transport for the North (TfN) is the funding organisation. According to a statement released by Network Rail, the changes have been designed to strengthen customer focus and business performance. As well as recruiting an MD for the north, Network Rail will appoint a new Chief Operating Officer (COO) for each of its seven route businesses in England and Wales. The eighth 'route', across Scotland, is not included in the changes.

Reporting to the new COOs, each business will get two new route heads – one dedicated to rail maintenance and the other focused on network operations. This is intended to bring more focus to the unique disciplines and it aims to improve the sharing of best practice and techniques, the statement says. A new lead for business development will also be added to each route business, to work on attracting private capital and third party funding for rail improvements, plus the route businesses will be strengthened with a project sponsorship director responsible for ensuring 'more robust specification and management of enhancements', Network Rail says.

The statement released does not present these changes as a formal response to Nicola Shaw's report for government into the future shape and financing of Network Rail, published earlier this year. But it does explain that a detailed review of Shaw's recommendation for a route business for the north found the disadvantages of cost and disruption would outweigh the advantages. The review, carried out by former CEO of Directly Operated Railways, Michael Holden, recommended that the existing route structure should remain, but overlain with an additional investment organisation headed by one person responsible for driving rail investment projects across the north.

“We are appointing a ‘railway upgrade tsar for the North'," said Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne. "This new role will ensure a clear focus on future rail expansion, modernisation and investment across the whole of the Northern Powerhouse. Better railways are a great driver for delivering more jobs, housing and economic growth."

The new structure has also been pitched as the best compromise between devolution and the need to operate the railway as a single network. Michael Holden said: “There is no single 'magic bullet' organisational structure that will meet the needs of all stakeholders whilst remaining operationally robust. The proposals being taken forward now represent the best way of addressing the clearly articulated needs of northern stakeholders for a more joined up approach to the development of the railway network across the north."

Network Rail will now be working with the Department for Transport and TfN to flesh out the details of how the new relationship will work between the new division and stakeholders in the north. No geographical boundaries have been defined for the new nothern division, which is, at this stage, intended to work on the investment priorities of TfN and the Rail North partnership between the rail industry and local and central goverment. TfN's aspirations include upgrades to shorten rail journey times between the cities of Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Sheffield, Leeds and Hull.

TfN chief executive David Brown welcomed Network Rail's announcement of a northern investment organisation as a major step forward for the North. "This is a pioneering move. It provides focus and empowerment," he said. "We look forward to Network Rail working in close collaboration with both TfN and Rail North as we work on delivering transformational change for passengers, freight operators and the economy.”