How Will Network Rail Manage The HS2 Resource Drain?

November 1, 2021
Understanding the impact of HS2 on Network Rail

HS2 is the infrastructure project that will dominate the UK market for decades to come. It is an enormously ambitious project, and one that has already proven to be highly controversial. But it will provide substantial benefits to the UK railway network. Once the dust has settled on land purchases and parliamentary acts, the focus will quickly shift to how this project can actually be delivered.

7,000 people are currently working on the early stages of the project and it is envisaged that a total of 30,000 people will be working on the scheme by 2020. That sharp acceleration of recruitment comes at a time when the UK construction sector has issues with recruitments and is close to the peak of Network Rail’s forecast CP6 output.

CP6 & Beyond

The current estimated completion date for HS2 is 2033 which means the majority of the work will coincide with Network Rail’s next three control periods (CP6, CP7 and CP8). The aim is to deliver £35 billion of projects in CP6 and even more in the following two control periods.

Graphs taken from the Network Rail Strategic Business Plan 2019

Graphs taken from the Network Rail Strategic Business Plan 2019

It is estimated that 35,000 people currently work on the UK rail infrastructure but with the boom and bust nature of the 5 year spending cycles, evidenced by the slow start to CP6 and the lack of commitment to electrification of the current network, the temptation for the workforce to move to HS2 must be greater than ever.

To deliver CP6, Network Rail estimates they need 40,000 people, a current shortfall of 5,000 people. To worsen matters, of the 35,000 who currently work in the sector, there is an increasing concern of a lack of key skills which is being exacerbated by an ageing workforce.

Skill Requirements

HS2 resource and skill requirements are going to demand expertise from the whole of the infrastructure construction sector with bridges, tunnels, stations all to be built alongside the rail systems packages. The chart below, from the Network Rail Strategic Business Plan, shows how the bulk of the HS2 expenditure clashes with not only Network Rail projects but also other high-value, attractive infrastructure projects such as Thames Tideway and other water and Highways England schemes.

The slow start to the current control period combined with the ageing workforce is likely to lead to an exodus of skilled workers that the mainline rail infrastructure industry may take decades to recover from. Lack of critical resource drives costs through the stratosphere and results in reduced output and delayed project delivery.

The tendency to focus on short-term commitment and the constant strategy churn instead of a commitment to longer-term initiatives, such as a rolling programme of electrification, may ruin CP6 before it has even begun.

HS2 and the wider investment in UK infrastructure projects means that it is an exciting time to be in engineering and construction, however, it is crucial that Network Rail do not get left behind. They must focus on delivering constant work back to their eager workforce and not get stuck in the boom and bust cycle that has plagued the industry for the past decade.

Read The Network Rail Strategic Business Plan Here:

Network Rail Strategic Business Plan

How Will Network Rail Manage The HS2 Resource Drain?

Oliver Donohue

Snr Account Manager

Snr Account Manager

Raildiary LinkedIn
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