Saudi rail privatisation: lessons learnt in the UK
Saudi Arabia is entering an exciting stage of its journey as it sets about delivering on ambitions outlined in its Vision for 2030. Part of this vision sees Saudi Arabia become an intercontinental hub connecting Asia, Europe and Africa.
Modern railways, fit for this century and the next, will be key to making this a reality and in order to do so, the country must understand the process of privatisation, and its risks and rewards.
Privatisation is a complex process and at Network Rail Consulting (NRC), we are uniquely positioned to support Saudi Arabia’s government and railway authorities in this transition, guided by genuine experience in the UK. Having been through the process ourselves, we understand the high level institutional, regulatory, policy and strategic issues and we can support based on the lessons learnt in the UK.
Heritage in the UK
NRC is the wholly owned international consultancy arm of Network Rail, the owner and operator of Britain’s mainline railway. Previously known as British Rail, it leads on the franchising of operations to the private railway operators which are responsible for running the train services. Over the years, Network Rail has therefore been in a unique position of working closely with both the private and public sector.
Having delivered operational, maintenance, planning and technical services for the UK railway, NRC’s consultancy team embodies the comprehensive technical expertise and operational experience of Network Rail. We can also offer unique advice on how to maximise the relationships between public and private bodies. As a company with consultants placed permanently in strategic locations around the world, we can combine our international experience with lessons learnt from our domestic experience, to offer high quality counsel to nations abroad.
Lessons learnt in the UK
1994 was a significant moment in the UK’s railway history, when the ownership and operation of the railways of Great Britain passed from government control into private hands. Whilst the subject is still debated and can be a matter of contention, particularly when it comes to politics and parties, significant benefits can be linked to privatisation. We are therefore in a perfect position to consider the opportunities for the rail industry when considering privatisation and advise on the best way to go about it, exporting the lessons it has learned to countries facing similar challenges around the world.
Exporting knowledge abroad
The depth of our experience enables us to advise clients around the world on the best courses of action for the development of their rail programs. One of our focus regions is the Middle East and in Saudi Arabia, we are currently working with the Saudi Railway Company (SAR) to support them on the operations and maintenance of the North-South Railway, a nationally important infrastructure project supporting the growth and diversification of the Saudi Arabian economy.
When much of the construction of the project and procurement was completed or well under way, SAR’s challenge was to develop the capacity for world class railway operations. SAR looked to experienced international partners to assist them on their journey of business growth and organisational development. A key requirement was close, collaborative working between the international partner and SAR. In 2014, a UK consortium comprising of NRC, SERCO and Freightliner, were commissioned to provide technical assistance in managing and operating the railway, initially for a five-year period.
In our specific role, we are providing managerial and technical assistance with regard to infrastructure management, operations and maintenance. In addition, we provide high level advisory services to support organisational growth and change management. Our scope extends to the development of infrastructure management systems and business processes; technical assistance and interim management and the delivery of a comprehensive training programme.
We are a uniquely positioned international consultancy with a strong presence in the Middle East, and can offer genuine hands on experience in solving the real world challenges of operating railways. The lessons we learnt through the privatisation process in the UK uniquely positions us to contribute to the next stage of Saudi Arabian history.
Network Rail Consulting is a wholly owned subsidiary of Network Rail and was established in 2012 to benchmark Network Rail’s capabilities in the international market and enhance the capabilities of its staff through international experience which could then be deployed back into its UK operations. Gordon Lindsay is regional director for the Middle East at Network Rail Consulting.