Andrew Cullis risk analyst at risk management consultancy, Equib explains how the toolkit will help to keep project risk on track

Launched by the Department for Transport, Network Rail and the Office of Rail and Road, the Better Value Rail Toolkit is designed to support informed decision-making at an early stage in rail infrastructure projects and reduce the risk of time and cost delays. However, in order to optimise results on major projects, the sector also needs to improve its communication of risk and innovate by bringing in talent from other areas of UK infrastructure.

A number of obstacles have historically prevented large-scale rail infrastructure projects from being delivered on time and on budget. In particular, the strict governance processes that projects are required to follow increase the likelihood of schemes exceeding their time and cost estimates. While the sector’s inherent safety risks require a high degree of caution, the one-size-fits-all approach that project teams are required to adopt to rail initiatives introduces bureaucracy. There is sometimes a tendency to spend a lot of time exploring multiple options which can introduce unnecessary time and cost into the process.

The Toolkit’s launch is a sign of the sector’s commitment to delivering major projects more quickly and cost-efficiently. It follows the launch of the Government’s Project Acceleration Unit in August last year, with its aim of speeding up the delivery of infrastructure programmes by improving efficiency and eliminating waste.

The new website’s user-friendly interface is designed to facilitate thinking during the project planning phase by being accessible to risk specialists and non-specialists alike. For example, its ‘Assumptions, Assessments and Significance Tool’ is a quick and easy way of capturing the assumptions associated with a particular scheme and scoring them by the likelihood of being correct, and their impact on time and cost if proven to be incorrect. Additionally, the Toolkit’s ‘Culture’ stage aims to get people thinking about the skills, experience and team dynamics needed to deliver the project successfully.

By focusing on the specific outcome that schemes are aiming to achieve for passengers and the public, the Toolkit also helps users to build a strong business case and ensure that projects ‘[deliver] for passengers, local communities and the taxpayer.’ By introducing a common approach to investigating proposed projects in the sector, it is also designed to make it easier to compare a number of different schemes, speed up decision-making and deliver projects more quickly and cost-efficiently.

However, it’s important to be aware that the toolkit is not a silver bullet for the improvement of rail project delivery. To see a real step-up in mega project results, industry bodies will also need to collaborate closely across a number of key areas. For example, it will be important to bring in project management specialists from other areas of UK infrastructure that have a strong track record of major-scale project delivery. While specific knowledge of the rail sector is valuable, experience in other industries could provide transferable skills when it comes to balancing the risk-focused ‘golden triangle’ of cost, time and quality. Experts from outside the rail sector could play an import role in challenging some of the red tape that is currently holding back delivery on some major projects.

To drive faster and more intelligent decision-making, the sector also needs to become better at communicating risk outputs to a range of stakeholders, including non-risk specialists. Effective risk analysis has little value unless project managers are able to communicate its results in a clear and concise way, and influence decision-makers to invest in the right mitigation activities.

The rail sector’s Toolkit has the potential to achieve an important objective – to focus minds on ensuring that any new rail initiatives truly address the problem at hand and have a strong business case. Coupled with efforts to improve the quality of risk communications and bring in fresh ideas from outside the sector, the UK rail network stands a better chance of improving its image for project delivery to cost and to schedule.


Andrew Cullis is a risk analyst at risk management consultancy, Equib.