Project SPEED - Swift, Pragmatic and Efficient Enhancement Delivery. A new acronym. Over 2,400 attended the conference on 26th February with an opening speech by Boris Johnson who noted that face-to-face meetings are what makes a difference to the “deal”, and that infrastructure via renewal of the “musculoskeletal” rail system of Britain is what will drive innovation and skills across the country.

A key message from the conference is that the government is intent on speeding up rail infrastructure projects. A collection of rail projects were picked out ranging in value from the thousands to the billions and analysed to see what processes had slowed things down. It was identified that speed of delivery was hampered as a result of hiding behind processes that feel familiar – with the GRIP (Governance for Railway Investment Projects) process in particular singled out for making projects slow and fragmented. It was highlighted that there are currently complex funding and excessive gateway reviews with over-optioneering which are not adding value.

As a result GRIP will be replaced with PACE (Project Acceleration in a Controlled Environment).  This will be a move from “rules” to a “principles” based approach. The aim of SPEED is to move away from what is seen as rigid processes to a flexible questioning approach to “halve the cost and the time” to deliver projects by simplification.  An alliance between the Rail Industry Association (RIA), Network Rail (NR), and Department for Transport (DfT) is to deliver a One Team culture with collaborative decisions between NR and DfT to drive this forward.

The Williams Review Paper on the future of rail is expected in the next few weeks, empowering the rail industry to be radical in its thinking. To remove bureaucracy, simplify the review process, shorten the time taken to secure consent, challenge standards, question what value is being added and adopt efficient methods of construction. Attendees raised concerns over how this might affect safety, which was met with the response that safety is in the DNA of the Industry and would never be compromised.

The evidence of the effectiveness of SPEED will be through the delivery of projects, with the Northumberland and Oakhampton lines given as pilot projects. The Northumberland line with six new stations will be delivered two years earlier than previously predicted by implementing the SPEED approach. The SPEEDing up of projects will “connect communities to opportunities”.

The new approach will be challenging, and it was recognised that if there are no failures, then it is likely that projects haven’t been challenged enough. This is not about rushing or cutting corners, but to “do less, do better, be bolder”, and have the humility to realise that suppliers may have more knowledge that should be tapped; and for NR/DfT to be an increasingly intelligent client. Procurement will move away from massively large scopes seeking to capture every work-stream to a more open question of what a supplier will bring to a project.

Discussed at the conference was the Network Rail CARS (Croydon Area Remodeling Scheme) forming the Brighton to London Mainline Upgrade Programme. This project will remove the biggest bottleneck in the UK rail network and Montagu Evans are appointed on planning and land assembly for the scheme, which will now be underpinned by the SPEED approach. We look forward to being at the forefront in supporting how these changes will work in practice.