The RICS is offering to set up an independent body to collate costs for rail projects in a bid to create certainty for future major schemes.

The institution’s rail industry strategy group is due to submit the idea in a paper to the Department for Transport this month.

The body would be similar to RICS arm the Building Cost Information Service (BCIS), which collates cost indexes for buildings.

Michael Byng, head of the rail strategy group, said the move would improve confidence in the sector by creating more certainty of cost for major schemes such as Crossrail, the East London tube line extension and Thameslink.

Byng stressed that the move would not undermine the role of client Network Rail, which has been set the target of reducing annual spend by 30% by 2009.

He said: “This is in the public interest, which is part of the role of the RICS. We are not coming out against Network Rail, which has had a horrendous job to do.

It’s about removing fear. It’s been very difficult for the government to make judgments on which schemes to back or not; without solid cost information it can’t do that.”

It’s been very difficult for the government to make judgments on schemes

Michael Byng, RICS rail strategy group

Byng said the cost service could be used both by the public sector and interested private sector backers in major rail schemes. He also thought the service could work internationally.

Client Network Rail did not respond directly to the idea, but a spokesperson stressed that the body was working very hard on understanding rail costs.

The spokesperson said: “Nobody is further forward than us in getting to the bottom of costs.”

He added that the body was already cutting 20% of the cost base of outside consultants such as QSs and project managers and was bringing more skills in house as part of the 30% cost-cutting exercise. This will reduce the annual spend from £6bn to just over £4bn.

The spokesperson said Network Rail was hoping to hire experienced permanent staff to work on up-front design for schemes before work is put out to the market. He said: “We need core people in core roles and to be less reliant on agency staff.”