Set up in the wake of the McNulty report, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) was tasked with analysing the 77-page document and working out how the recommendations could be applied to save the industry money whilst delivering a better service for passengers.
Sir Roy McNulty’s thoughts are just the start for a group that is looking to establish itself as one of the industry’s major driving forces. According to the group’s chairman, Tim O’Toole, the RDG was formed to fill the leadership vacuum which had been exposed by McNulty.
‘There was no forum for putting together all of the issues such that the government could feel it could turn to someone and get answers,’ says O’Toole.
On January 4, the Transport Committee published its Rail 2020 report in response to The Rail Value for Money Study. In it, the committee singled out the RDG as the body to spearhead the introduction of new ticketing technology and improve retail facilities for passengers on the network.
2013 looks set to be a big year for the RDG, with the formalisation of the group and the government’s Brown review into franchising all due to dominate the agenda at the start of the year.
The RDG brings together industry leaders on a voluntary basis, with members including Network Rail, FirstGroup, Virgin, Arriva, Freightliner and National Express.
Meetings have so far looked at asset, programme and supply chain management, technology and innovation, passenger information, and train utilisation. Members have also sought to help with franchise reform.
Franchising is high on the group’s agenda, with the West Coast Main Line fiasco generating countless column inches of uncomfortable reading for the DfT.
The need for smarter franchises, however, was championed by the group back in November 2011 – almost a year before the West Coast competition was cancelled. The RDG had recommended the introduction of longer franchises, where the risk is shared fairly between the DfT and the operator.
As the chief executive of FirstGroup, O’Toole knows better than most the impact a mistake in the franchise letting process can have on a business. O’Toole believes his desire to see a reformed system is no greater than anyone else’s in the industry.
‘We as a group have come together and given Richard Brown our views as to what should be done in franchising. We will hear his report and then we as RDG will make a decision.’
Words into action
Some of the RDG’s most successful work so far has come from its asset, programme and supply-chain management working group, particularly in the area of access management.
The RDG found that a switch to six-and-a-half hour access periods during the weekdays was a more efficient way of maintaining the network.
Says O’Toole, ‘It was eye opening. Though Network Rail has done a lot of work on access planning, it didn’t have the TOCs in there putting the revenue side in. Never before had progress been made so quickly.’
Life after McNulty
Formalisation will ensure the RDG continues its work even if the current voluntary system breaks down.
Stakeholders have been canvassed and within the coming months the group’s future is likely to be secured.
The ORR, however, is keen to point out exactly how the process of becoming a company limited by guarantee will impact on what the group does and the powers it has to do it.
Formalising won’t give the RDG any additional authority, but by ensuring the forum continues to operate it will derive power from the industry executives who make up the organisation’s working groups.
The group’s funding will also be secured. Network Rail will fund the RDG until the end of CP4 at which point members will cover the costs.
Says O’Toole, ‘We seem to have a greater purpose. It will have this ongoing life and not just depend on us doing right-minded things for a short period of time.’