Being R-Nippers

Article written by Neil Mason – Managing Director

Vitruvius have been awarded as one of KiwiRail’s suppliers for the Rail Network Investment Programme (RNIP)! *The focus of RNIP, in line with the priorities set out in the NZ Rail Plan is investing in the national rail network to restore rail freight and provide a platform for future investments for growth. This means a primary focus (and majority of spend) on the continuous programmes of maintenance, management and renewal as well as a modest allowance for improvement projects to support resilience and reliability[1]

When Vitruvius embarked on its journey nearly eleven years ago, our core principles were founded on the unwavering commitment to always do what’s right. While this principle holds true across various contexts, in the realm of engineering, we are fortunate to have well-established codes and standards that provide clear guidance.

When discussing the maintenance and renewal of life extension programs, we’ve identified a missing piece – specificity in defining outcomes and objectives. Historically, our greatest challenge has resided within the rail sector. It endured the repercussions of historical underfunding and the deterioration of rail assets during a lean, privatised era. When I arrived in New Zealand in 2008, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the rundown rail industry was about to be re-nationalised. This marked a pivotal step in revitalising our country’s integrated transportation system and presented an exciting opportunity for me as an engineer to witness the transformation from mediocrity to excellence.

Vitruvius will always hold true to our principles for quality and safety, and back our system and people to deliver this. Over time, we’ve come to recognise that the optimal Whole of Life (WOL) model may need to be balanced with a temporary fix to ‘keep the ship afloat’. Recently, Vitruvius received the honour of being selected as one of KiwiRail’s suppliers for the Rail Network Investment Programme (RNIP), involving scoping, investigation, and design solutions. During the selection process, we were able to align our values and gain KiwiRail’s support in exploring various options before settling on the best project solution. This opportunity empowers our engineers to think creatively and present site-specific solutions. As my former boss used to say, “Permanent Way – the clue is in the title, Neil,” but that doesn’t mean every situation demands a 100-year WOL solution. Sometimes, we must adapt and allocate resources across numerous aging assets, prioritising life extension over full renewal.

So, how do these two narratives intersect? We’re all evolving our thought processes collaboratively! Presenting holistic solutions within a mature business case decision-making framework allows us to support one another when presenting ideas and options to stakeholders. No one wants to feel backed into a corner with only a single solution on the table, and designers appreciate demonstrating their consideration of factors like cost, time, constructability, and sustainability in arriving at the preferred design. We at Vitruvius are thrilled that a more precise definition of the problem, prior to designing solutions, is now being viewed through a lens that accommodates short, medium, and long-term perspectives.

The approach taken by the KiwiRail Engineering team in developing and executing the RNIP packages serves as an excellent example of delivering value for money and defining a range of options. This marks a significant departure from the somewhat makeshift solutions of the past, dating back to the dark days pre-2007. It’s a tangible representation of progress within our industry, and we’re proud to be in the middle of it.

[1] Referenced from the Kiwirail website