The Environmental Appraisal and Action Plan process has been a requirement on Network Rail projects since 2011.  However, in early 2017, Network Rail has worked with WSP to develop a specific Environmental & Social Appraisal (ESA) tool (based in Excel), to help Network Rail’s workforce and its supply chain identify, assess and manage environmental and social risks and opportunities.  WSP has worked with Network Rail to evolve and advance this tool on a number of occasions since this time.

Why is it important?

The ESA tool is helping Network Rail articulate and navigate the environmental and social issues connected to the most pressing trends in the built environment. To do this, it requires all those working on Network Rail schemes to respond to current issues (impacts on business, responding to local community demographics, and encouraging enhanced social outcomes) as well as future sustainability topics – from decarbonisation, sustainable resource management and biodiversity net gain to low-carbon technologies, climate resilience and water scarcity.  

Importantly, the ESA Tool creates a balance between environmental and social appraisal criteria, covering critical issues including (but not limited to) inspiring tomorrow’s workforces; supporting Britain’s economic development, and; addressing serious issues in rail, such as suicide, and anti-social behavioural trends like vandalism.  

How does it work?

Network Rail’s ESA tool is Excel+Macro-based and requires users to complete a suite of questions that are tailored to the scale and nature of development in hand.  By maximising the use of drop-downs and automation, user input error is minimised, and different schemes’ performance can be more easily compared. 

The ESA tool is designed to be used for any Network Rail project of different sizes, scales and natures.  It is also deployed iteratively (a live tool) and updated regularly throughout the lifecycle of the project to ensure the risks and opportunities remain accurate as project detail develops.  On completion of the appraisal, users are provided with a list of mandatory actions in an Action Plan, as well as opportunities to add value through sustainability best practice. 

All environmental and social risks and opportunities contained within the ESA tool are linked to Network Rail’s Environment & Social Minimum Requirements for Projects – Design and Construction (NR/L2/ENV/015), as well as other Network Rail guidance, standards and processes.  Accordingly, the ESA tool ensures that members of Network Rail and its supply chain fully understand and have access to the right information to make safe, standardised, socially and environmentally responsible and cost-effective (sustainable) decisions.

An iterative process

The process that has been used to build up to today’s ESA tool can be traced back to 2013 and the development of WSP’s Sustainability Options Assessment Tool (SOAT) process, which was used to help Network Rail articulate sustainability performance during the optioneering stage of the Ordsall Chord project in Manchester.  

SOAT represented the first step in a new way to identify project risks and opportunities, and provide quantifiable comparisons of the potential sustainability performance of different designs. According to WSP’s Tim Danson, who designed SOAT, “we wanted a tool that would enable clients to clearly capture and present approaches to sustainability, and zero in on areas that needed to be challenged. For Network Rail we wanted to keep the same simplicity and versatility that made SOAT so useful, but via a more sophisticated, interactive and tailorable platform that would ensure Network Rail’s staff and delivery partners complied with its environmental sustainability strategy.” 

WSP’s Jean-Louis Bartlett worked closely with Network Rail to develop the ESA across each of its iterations since 2017. He said: “The ESA tools have required robust storyboarding to ensure that the response to each question took the user forward in the most useful and practicable way. It is really gratifying that the tool has been so well received by our client, and that we have been given the opportunity to help them, as a trusted advisor, to respond to its evolving needs.”

Such has been its impact, that use of the ESA tool remains a mandatory requirement for all Network Rail maintenance, infrastructure and track projects.

The current ESA tool

In May 2020, WSP was commissioned to provide a suite of further upgrades to the ESA tool.  Our remit was to make it more comprehensive and more user-friendly. As such, it now enables the scope of an appraisal to be set by the user, and it ensures that a traceable history of updates can be stored and accessed within its pages. It also provides a more intuitive framework that allows Network Rail to edit, manage and update the ESA tool, within set parameters, as sustainability topics and requirements evolve over time. Ultimately, we expect the ESA tool to support Network Rail and its value chain on delivering the sustainability agenda, for years to come.   
We are extremely proud of the work we have completed to help Network Rail deliver this business-critical tool.

To access the toolkit, click here.