Interview: Transmanche Metro

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Interview with Dafydd Pugh, Kent County Council

What would say is unique to the Transmanche Metro project?

Our project is about better cross-border connections within an established intercity, high-speed rail service network. As such, we challenge a widely held belief that high-speed rail can only perform over long distances and with non-stop services. The business case we make shows that regional destinations can be served on the same line used for long-distance services, and that the provider – in this case Eurostar – also stands to profit.

The business case has enjoyed wide support. What do you attribute this to?

Before we started producing the final business case, Kent County Council and Nord-Pas de Calais organised a consultation seminar with experts from several disciplines. What we learned influenced our approach and the exercise was repeated when the initial draft of the business case was ready.

So you’ve been able to keep support up over the course of the project…

… yes, though once the technical feasibility study for Ashford was completed, the challenge was to keep rail industry stakeholders on board. To be quite honest, decision-making power is diffuse within much of the rail industry, and this makes keeping interests aligned and stakeholders focussed a big challenge.

What concrete benefit did the RoCK project bring to your work?

In many ways we were able to learn and take inspiration from the other partners in the RoCK project. The cross-border ticketing taskforce set up by the Aachener Verkehrsverbund was a model of good practice for bringing together industry stakeholders. We applied a similar approach for the Ashford resignalling study by involving all stakeholders from the outset and tightly focussing on technical feasibility to keep stakeholders working together effectively and efficiently. Further achievements of our partners were also inspiring – for example the extension of the Dutch railway concessions – and we hope we have provided some inspiration in return.

The RoCK project’s stakeholder engagement workstream was also very useful as it funded a knowledge transfer meeting between Network Rail and Infrabel, the UK and Belgian infrastructure managers, respectively, and a subsequent round-table with all stakeholders in London. This led to the setting up of a Project Management and Governance Group, the appointment of a project manager in Network Rail and the securing of pledges of £4 million in grants from the EU’s “Connecting Europe Facility” (CEF) (confirmed) and the UK’s Single Local Growth Fund (provisional).

Although it was subsequently decided to progress the project with the KVB signalling system rather than with the ETCS system, which meant that we were not able to draw down the CEF funding, the work undertaken to develop the CEF bid proved invaluable in getting the project to the point of delivery within Network Rail. The current funding plan is for about £4.5 million of LGF funding through the south-east LEP, for which a full Business Case is currently under preparation.

What would have been impossible if it weren’t for RoCK?

The development of the Ashford Spurs project, without which Ashford would cease to be served by international services, would not have been possible without the RoCK project. RoCK provided the initial base funding for this project to develop.

What can other EU regions with similar projects learn from your approach?

To start with, the importance of stakeholder networking. Through RoCK we were reminded of the need for persistent stakeholder engagement and political persuasion to implement our project. Clear objectives with defined outcomes are important, as is a realistic approach to what is achievable.

Project ended December 2015