Trains, fines and big claims – Network Rail is way off track

 

Westminster Outlook If the name Mark Carne sounded familiar a year ago, it was only because it was but a letter short of Mark Carney, the Government’s then newly appointed and anointed Governor of the Bank of England and saviour of the British economy.

Indeed, Mr Carne was hardly a household name even within the oil industry, in which he had spent much of his career as an executive at Royal Dutch Shell and BG Group. The Exeter University graduate was, to put it kindly, an obscure choice to succeed Sir David Higgins as chief executive of the state-backed Network Rail at the start of the year.

But ministers and the Network Rail chairman Richard Parry-Jones, a former Ford Motor Company vice-president, clearly wanted an outsider. They placed a bet that someone without deeply entrenched and perhaps even dated views could bring a fresh pair of eyes to the task of fixing some serious problems at the organisation that runs the UK’s railways and its most important stations.

This week, for example, came confirmation that Network Rail fell more than 5 per cent short of its target to get 92 per cent of trains to stations on time in 2013-14, receiving a £53.1m fine as a result.

Around 3.2 million trains were late between 2009 and 2014, Network Rail’s last completed, Soviet-sounding, five-year “control period”. Simply put, the organisation has struggled to improve a creaking network at the same pace as the growth in passenger journeys, which have doubled since 1995 to more than 1.5 billion. 

An oddball choice is going to have some oddball views and the latest available board minutes, from April, show that Mr Carne’s early observations are off-kilter with industry insiders and observers.

The minutes state that Mr Carne found “the company had achieved a huge level of political support and there seemed to be no real call for transformational change”.

One rail executive looked quizzically at that claim, arguing that our elected masters, of every hue, are broadly “neutral” and certainly wouldn’t be flag-wavers given the punctuality problems.

Perhaps Mr Carne’s words were uttered to soothe a board that has been battered down the years, particularly over executive pay and bonuses. This reached a bizarre nadir last year when Sir David was criticised for a bonus of less than £100,000 when he certainly deserved more.

Maybe Mr Carne believes what he says. Maybe ministers and officials have convinced him of their faith in the company. That would be worrying given that so much of the evidence is quite to the contrary. 

A cross-party ComRes poll of 155 MPs – nearly a fifth of the House of Commons and so a reliable sample – that has been passed to me shows that nearly three in five or our elected Westminster politicians believe Network Rail has failed to provide value for money. Just shy of two-thirds of MPs also think that rail contractors are dominated by just a handful of huge international firms.

Anna Matthews, the chief executive at DeltaRail, which commissioned the research, says these findings “demonstrate that Network Rail is still failing to operate at the standards expected of other publicly funded organisations and is showing contempt for the UK taxpayer”.

Given that DeltaRail is based in Derby, home to the train maker Bombardier, Ms Matthews unsurprisingly argues that Network Rail should stop “habitually handing out contracts to a small group of favoured foreign providers” and buy British.

Despite Parliament’s doubts, Network Rail is to be entrusted with £38bn in the period 2014-19, which includes money to renew or refurbish 7,000 kilometres of track. 

The Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said that “record amounts of government funding” for the railways is part of the Government’s economic plan of building “world-class infrastructure”.

Having been given all that money, it is conceivable Mr Carne felt that politicians really are falling over themselves to support his organisation.

A more natural conclusion is that 12 years after Network Rail was formed out of the ashes of the failed Railtrack, politicians still don’t trust it, are fed up with trains running late, and think British suppliers aren’t getting a fair shout in lucrative contract bids.

There is “no real call for transformational change” because our Westminster leaders have failed to develop any alternatives to Network Rail. Mr Carne is wrong to say it has “achieved a huge level of political support”; it has earned nothing of the sort and is only begrudgingly granted such an eye-watering budget.

twitter.com/@mleftly

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Swiss Banking and Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Can you speak German,...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - 6 month FTC - Central London

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity f...

Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application) - Agile

£215 per day: Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application ...

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever