Network Rail, the track and signal company, could be held responsible for all late-running trains on the railways, under new proposals to be published this week.
The idea, from the Office of Rail Regulation, is an attempt to end the culture of blame that has bedevilled the railways since privatisation. Under the current system, if a train operator is delayed by Network Rail it can claim compensation, but this can sometimes lead to pro-tracted negotiations between the two parties.
The ORR, chaired by Chris Bolt, wants to make Network Rail responsible for the overall performance of the railways. Where delays occur, the company would be charged with sorting them out.
"If Network Rail has lead responsibility then, if there is a problem on the network, it is not a case of haggling over how to deal with it. Network Rail will have responsibility for telling the train operators to do particular things to recover from that problem," said Bolt.
Industry sources said they hoped that if Network Rail was awarded the new role, this would reduce the compensation culture on the railways. In the last financial year Network Rail paid out net compensation of £396m to the train operating companies. A Network Rail spokesman said: "We broadly welcome the [ORR] review of the performance regime, but as with a lot of these things the devil's in the detail."
The new system could also potentially improve the governance of Network Rail. The company is held to account by 100 "members" made up of train operating company representatives and members of the public.
However, some in the industry are worried that because of the compensation they receive from Network Rail, the train operators have little incentive to hold the company to account for poor performance.
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