The Role of a Shadow Operator


Network Rail Consulting (NRC) recognises that early operator engagement or input is crucial to ensure ‘best for business’ decision making and outcomes throughout the course of the project lifecycle. Direct experience as operators allows NRC to confidently advise global clients on this discipline, with offerings including the provision of, and guidance around, the Shadow Operator function.


A Shadow Operator performs a key role in the definition, planning and delivery of new rail projects in situations where an actual rail operator has yet to be appointed. The Shadow Operator team is typically made up of rail experts that have direct experience in the management of transport organisations and delivery of freight and/or passenger railway services. Up to the point where the actual operator of a newly developed rail system is appointed, the Shadow Operator is expected to represent the operational needs of the business.

The Shadow Operator function acknowledges that major rail projects require early and continued focus on likely future state operational and business processes. Early and progressive input throughout the design/development phase offers the opportunity to apply valuable learning from other operators that may have already overcome common challenges or pitfalls.

Ultimately, the Shadow Operator role is implemented to ensure satisfactory and timely delivery of client expectations at operational go-live.

Involvement at Early Design Phase

At the design stage, the involvement of a Shadow Operator will vary in accordance with the contract and specific project requirements, but a key activity they are often tasked with is the development of an Operational (Ops) Concept. The Ops Concept establishes how business requirements will be met and translates them into functional requirements which ultimately trace into the technical system definition. The system definition specifies how suppliers should build and deliver systems to meet customer expectations. Using experienced operators to develop an Ops Concept allows the project to be built on learnings from previous operating contexts.

In the development phase, the Shadow Operator may also be asked to advise on other disciplines. Some examples include asset management principles, maintenance strategies, customer experience objectives and potential transformation or change management matters.

Transition to Operating Phase

Following design, testing and go-live, there may be an additional remit for the Shadow Operator to take ownership of various aspects of the operator/maintainer contract. This can incentivise the Shadow Operator to drive positive operator outcomes in the development stages and smooth the path to handover and operator acceptance.

Services offered in the actual operating contract could include: basic train operations (e.g. supply of train crew), rolling stock/infrastructure maintenance and/or customer experience elements. The most comprehensive contract might see the operator providing a full, vertically-integrated, service.


The Shadow Operator function is an important role which guides the development and operation of significant rail projects at an early stage in its lifecycle. When implemented correctly, this can drive positive operator/maintainer outcomes from the design stage and lead to a smoother transition to operational go-live.

Network Rail Consulting have a diverse cross section of subject matter experts with significant experience working in railways in Australia, Britain, Canada, USA, and Saudi Arabia. Their combined skillset is unique to the market, with real-world experience being utilised to help transition projects from concept design to successful operations.

Darren Choytooa
Associate Director Project Management
Network Rail Consulting