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Civil works at Utrecht Centraal station, source: ProRail

ProRail implements new masterplan for better division of railwork

According to ProRail, only doing engineering work at night, at the weekend and in holiday periods is unaffordable in the long-term and will lead to an exodus from the sector. Therefore, engineering work sometimes needs to be done during the day, and on weekdays. Generating more understanding for this among rail operators was one of the reasons for ProRail to bring parties together in ‘TWAS Incubators’.

TWAS stands for ‘Toekomstbestendig Werken aan het Spoor’ (Future-Proof Work on the Track) and is the masterplan from ProRail for work on rail infrastructure, as commissioned by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, in the coming years. “TWAS achieves an optimal balance by combining, spreading and planning work through better coordination with rail operators, contractors, the government and stakeholders”, explains Eric Thieme, TWAS Programme Manager at ProRail.

“We solve this ourselves by improving the planning of our infrastructure works and so demonstrably removing the biggest headaches for contractors and rail operators. This planning needs to align well with the possibilities of all parties. For instance, at the moment most work is done at night, at the weekend and over the holiday, meaning contractors have difficulty maintaining the quality and quantity of staff they need. This jeopardises the continuity of the rail network.”

Since the NS was divided into separate, private businesses, each of these has increasingly optimised their own processes on an individual level, without considering what this means for the total supply chain, notes ProRail.

“We make the railway together. That’s why as ProRail we’re going to look at what we can do to get all involved parties working better with each other. We are inviting them to sit around the same table to take part in structural and constructive consultation. This will save time and ensure that they all have more understanding of each other’s standpoints and possibilities. At the moment, what happens all too often is that we develop a plan based on bilateral talks with all parties, but then one operator or contractor says at the end: ‘that’s not possible’, which means we have to start again from scratch.”

Sector-wide pressure cooker session

One of the things that ProRail is doing to resolve these issues is the TWAS Incubator. “The Incubator is a ‘pressure cooker session’ with a large number of stakeholders from the rail sector. The aim is to take up issues, together make concrete action plans and to speed up the implementation of these plans. Hence we work together on new, sector-wide best practices of partnership and optimisation. Under the motto of  ‘think big, start small, scale fast’, we adopted this methodology for the first time with BBV Wadden [a project working on the railway superstructure]. Now we are making the switch with Kennemerland and are looking forward to doing the same in other regions”, says Thieme.

Over time, this will generate a system of national portfolio management that will ensure more cohesion between the different projects and limit indirect costs as much as possible. One of the most important objectives of the masterplan is to create long-term plans in which engineering works are better spread out both within a particular year and across a number of years. “What we often hear from contractors is that there is an enormous dip in their workload in the first quarter. This means that the rest of the year is about playing catch up, which costs money, partly because workers are lost at the beginning of the year and then must be coaxed back.”

Losing expertise

Finding and retaining good personnel is an important driver behind the masterplan. The Rail Career Study 2019 from SpoorPro from the start of this year showed, once again, that contractors are struggling to find good people. ProRail also recognises that the rail sector risks losing expertise. “For young people, it can still be an attractive proposition to work a lot at nights, at weekends and in vacation periods in order to earn more. But once people are in the next stage of their life, other sectors that have fewer antisocial hours are more attractive. So they leave our sector and do not return, meaning we lose the knowledge they have built up.”

Author: Paul van den Bogaard

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