Network Rail needs £430m to stay on track

Network Rail needs £430m to stay on track

Principal system replacements and technology updates make for an expensive wishlist

Network Rail needs to spend £430m on technology over five years to maintain a good service, according to the rail operator’s strategic business plan published last week.

The forecast for 2009 to 2014 includes core expenditure to maintain existing systems and additional investment in system replacement and upgrades (£134m), technology and licence renewals (£100m) and business-driven change projects (£195m).

The plans are not yet guaranteed. Negotiations with the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) will continue for another 12 months before the final decision is made.

“The business plan provides the most detailed update of how we think money should be spent if the government wants a high level of service,” said a Network Rail spokesman.

“But negotiations will continue and it is up to ORR to decide the final amount.”
Network Rail said its budget proposals are necessary to meet the needs of the sector’s complex technology environment.

“All our systems need to be underpinned by a robust architecture,” said the spokeman.

“But with railway infrastructure there are lots of legacy systems that need work,” he said.

The biggest plan is the long-delayed European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) ­ a continent-wide safety system that uses transponders to record a train’s position and send data to onboard computers that can automatically apply brakes. ERTMS is now due to be completed by 2015. Another significant investment, the rollout of the GSM-R digital communications network underpinning ERTMS, is expected in 2013.

“The rail industry is a sector where IT is mixed in with core tasks and so spending will always be high,” said independent rail expert Christian Wolmar.

Principal system replacements and upgrades include the integration of asset management tools (£27m), replacement of legacy train management systems (£25m) and the enhancement of train reporting (£24m).

Major technology refreshes and licence renewals include an Oracle upgrade (£20m), Oracle licences (£16m), and mid-range renewals and capacity upgrade to accommodate growth (£19m).