Network Rail has formally started the legal consultation process with its trades unions on the maintenance reforms required to modernise and improve productivity and efficiency.

The proposed reforms are aimed at improving safety for both employees and passengers, boosting train service performance, and saving money so that we can run the railway more efficiently and put the industry on a firm financial footing for the future.

We have been clear throughout talks with our unions that we want to give our people a fair pay rise, but it has to be affordable. Our most recent offer – 8% over two years, with heavily discounted travel, a cash bonus and a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies – met many of the RMT’s demands and, crucially, was affordable from within our own budgets. The alternative is to ask either taxpayers or passengers to fund a pay increase, and that is neither fair nor realistic.

Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, said: “The way people live and work has changed since the pandemic. On the railway, that means significantly fewer commuters and significantly less income. This year we’ll see a shortfall of around £2bn compared with 2019.

“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.”

In simple terms, the proposed reforms to our maintenance organisation will deliver:

  • A safer and more reliable and punctual service for passengers and employees – quicker fault fixes by multi-disciplined response teams and greater use of ‘smart meter’ technology flagging issues to controls rooms before key equipment failure
  • Individual rostering – enabling us to send the right number or people to fix a fault rather than fixed sized teams.
  • Multifunctional teams – enabling us to mix skills within a team so that, for example, we could send three mixed specialists in one van to fix a fault rather than two specialist teams in two vans.
  • Multi-skilling – investing in the knowledge and skills of our people so they are better equipped to fix the most common faults themselves.
  • Accelerated and improved technology deployment – we have a raft of labour and life-saving technology that have 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.

The consultation process kicked off with a formal meeting today (28 July) with our trades unions, to discuss the implementation of proposed changes to working practices, with next steps agreed at this meeting.

The proposed changes would make our maintenance activity much more efficient than it currently is and will help us to catch up with wider norms in comparable industries, as highlighted in the recent Nichols report.

A recent Yonder poll of over 2,000 UK adults looking at opinions on the recent rail strikes, pay and modernisation of the railway also showed huge support for reforms in the rail industry, and a massive vote of dissatisfaction with the RMT’s approach to negotiations.

While the proposed reforms would likely lead to a smaller maintenance workforce – from around 10,000 to around 8,000 (just over 1,900 roles have been identified) – we do not expect to have to make any compulsory redundancies, with the changes we are proposing able to be made through voluntary severance, retraining and redeployment.