Network Rail consults on maintenance reforms

A rail with sun shining on it.

Network Rail is starting a legal consultation process with trades unions on reforms to maintenance it says are needed to ‘modernise and improve productivity and efficiency.’

It wants to introduce multidisciplinary response teams to fix faults quicker, allied to monitoring equipment which can alert control rooms of issues before equipment fails. Also in its modernisation proposals are individual rostering, which it says will allow it to be more flexible in the number of people it sends to faults, multifunctional teams (it quotes an example of being able to send three specialists in one van to an incident rather than two specialist teams in two vans) and multi-skilling staff. 

NR also says it has a ‘raft of labour and life-saving technology that has been stuck in “trade union consultation” for over two years, holding up the deployment of vital safety upgrades that are ready to be rolled out.’

If implemented, the changes could lead to the maintenance workforce shrinking from around 10,000 to 8,000, but NR says it expects compulsory redundancies to be avoided via voluntary severance, retraining and redeployment.

A pay offer of an 8% rise over two years including discounted rail travel, a cash bonus and a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies was tabled which NR says met many of the RMT union’s demands.

In response, RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch described claims of an unconditional pay offer as ‘a deception on staff and… entirely untrue.’ He said the offer was ‘entirely conditional’ on mass redundancies and changes to conditions and working practices which are ‘not yet worked through and are subject to discussions with the trade unions.’

He also claimed that NR has withdrawn its offer of no compulsory redundancies. 

Network Rail Chief Executive Andrew Haines said NR faces a shortfall in funding of around £2 billion compared with 2019, adding: ‘It would be wrong to fund this deficit through increases in fares or taxes when we know that some of our working practices are fundamentally broken. That’s why we must make progress with modernising the way we carry out maintenance work and making the savings that are necessary for the future of our railway.

‘We haven't given up on finding a negotiated way forward. We have made a good pay offer and our door remains open, but we can't continue to circle the same ground day after day, week after week and not move forward. These reforms are too important, especially given we started these conversations 18 months ago. It is vital that we progress our modernisation plans to help put our railway on a sustainable financial footing for the future.’