Network Rail’s management of vegetation fails to meet its standard for managing risks or take into account environmental best practice, an official review has found.
The report, which was carried out by ‘experienced land manager’ John Varley OBE, was commissioned by the then rail minister, Jo Johnson, after the Guardian raised concerns that the rail infrastructure operator was being over zealous in its approach to tree-cutting.
It was published by the Department for Transport (DfT) on Wednesday (28 November) a month after it was presented to the department. Among six recommendations, the report calls for Network Rail to ‘lead a cultural change for valuing nature and the environment’.
Although the recommendations also include that, within six months, ‘the Government must set out a clear policy position for Network Rail in terms of delivering for the environment’, the DfT said that Network Rail will develop a plan to address the recommendations over the next 6 months.
Transport Network has approached the DfT for clarification as to how it will respond to this specific recommendation.
Another recommendation with a six-month deadline for implementation is that ‘appropriate governance must be put in place at organisation, route and project level’.
Andrew Jones, the new rail minister, said: ‘I completely understand people’s concerns when they see trees being cut down, but it’s also important to recognise that without effective lineside vegetation management we risk delays and compromise safety for passengers.’
Mr Varley said: ‘Taken together, my review’s recommendations should lead to a significant improvement in the environmental impact of the railway, while reducing cost, and safety and performance risks.’
The report’s findings are:
- While there are pockets of best practice across the network, the overall approach to vegetation management is reactive and inconsistent. There remains a significant percentage of the rail network which is non-compliant with the Standard in terms of minimising potential hazards from lineside vegetation.
- Network Rail does not take into account accepted environmental best practice throughout all of its estate.
- With the right vision, leadership and governance, a new culture could be established that would drive improved outcomes for safety, people and the environment.
The other three recommendations are that
- Network Rail should publish an ambitious vision for the lineside estate
- Network Rail must value and manage its lineside estate as an asset.
- Network Rail must improve its communication with affected communities