The Impact of Possession Overruns

January 21, 2020
The article covers the key challenges and benefits of effective possession management and tips for optimizing possession planning and execution.

The planning and management of possessions is a complex process. The logistics of diverting, blocking or even altogether closing a section of track can have implications up and down the country.

Works need to be planned months, sometimes years in advance to avoid major disruptions and if works are not completed in time then additional costs can be incurred by way of fines and additional resource.

As the UK’s rail timetable becomes more intense, with increased services across the network, the stakes are even higher. The industry faces more potential for disruption and less ‘obvious’ times for possession.

The result is that any major works require a delicate balancing act of the relationships between TOCs, clients, contractors and passengers. The client, often Network Rail, is responsible for the provision of access to contractors, but the contractor must work closely with them and communicate clear, actionable progress or problems in order for the client to project manage effectively.

If delays are caused on a main-line Network Rail could be required to pay out thousands of pounds per minute in compensation, so delivering works and handing back possession on-time is of paramount importance for contractors hoping to work with them again.

A prime example is the 2014 critical blockade which resulted in a multi-million-pound fine for Network Rail and an ORR investigation into their delivery over the Christmas period.

Planning For Possessions

One of the first things to consider when planning a possession is the diversionary capability of the route. Whether it be a re-route, reduced timetable or bus replacement, passenger experience should always be put first.

Planning needs to be done in ample time ahead of the proposed works. Delays in notifying the train operators of access requirements can lead to a loss of revenue for them, as not being able to book trains far enough in advance can result in some passengers choosing not to travel at all.

As the possession approaches, attention shifts to the planned works and splitting them out across the access duration. Using previous project data, you can more accurately estimate your outputs and resource requirements.

A thorough, data-backed plan for each shift reduces the risk of overruns, disruption and informs the client’s assessment of access requirements.

Involving private sector for improving possession, Source: International Railway Journal

Possession Overruns

Impact Of Delays

Delays on a shift can have a significant impact on travellers and as such, the train operating companies themselves. The nature of our integrated rail system means that delays can have a national impact. In fact, research shows that an early morning delay in Gloucestershire can cause disruption across the UK, including services in Scotland.

The cost to the train operating company is not simply monetary, as they will receive compensation from the client. The damage is far worse when it comes to their reputation and future ticket sales. Dissatisfied customers take to public forums to voice their complaints and seek other methods of travel next time.

TOCs are trying to combat this by introducing bigger passenger commitments. For example, offering compensation for delays of 15 minutes rather than 30 or 60. Holding themselves to these standards piles more pressure onto contractors and clients to deliver works in a timely manner.

Contractor Responsibility

For the contractors themselves, a failure to hand back possession on time can result in not being paid in full and missing out on future work phases. It’s vital that the reason for any delay is recorded and communicated back to the client to avoid this - preferably in real-time and with photos to back it up.

This takes careful management from the contractor to ensure that productivity is not affected. Supervisors can plan in contingency time to avoid delays but by not taking advantage of the full access time of the shift, the works will just take longer overall.

In summary, possession management is a crucial component of railway operations that ensures safe and efficient use of track possessions by maintenance teams. It requires effective communication and coordination between various stakeholders and the use of advanced technologies to optimize possession management plans. Railway operators must prioritiSe investment to improve possession management and ensure the safe and efficient operation of train services.

The Impact of Possession Overruns

Will Doyle


I am an experienced RICS chartered Quantity Surveyor​ with first-hand experience of how the consistent capture and analysis of data can transform global project delivery.

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