In the wake of a dire set of performance figures, Network Rail’s chief executive, Mark Carne, has been warned by the industry’s top regulator that his organisation is failing passengers.
Richard Price, head of the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), told Mr Carne at a meeting this week that Network Rail – which runs and maintains 20,000 miles of track, 40,000 bridges and viaducts and 19 major stations – had to improve.
The meeting took place before the release yesterday of an ORR report on Network Rail’s performance during the first six months of a £38bn five-year investment plan. The findings showed that it had missed its punctuality target, with 50,000 more trains than had been expected running significantly late. Network Rail is forecast to be £112m over budget this year and poor data means it is reacting to problems on the network instead of anticipating and fixing them early.
The news confirms a recent Independent on Sunday report that the lowest proportion of trains in seven years – one in 11 – are reaching their final destinations roughly on time.
In essence, passengers pay for 60 per cent of the cost of running and maintaining the network through their tickets – and Mr Price told The Independent that they are “not getting what they are paying for”.
He warned of the possibility of further fines for an organisation that has been heavily penalised in the past for missing targets. “Punctuality is significantly below target. There are too many asset failures [such as signalling] across the network.”
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He added that Mr Carne, who only took over this year, agreed on the extent of the problem. Mr Price said: “I do not think that Network Rail is performing close to its potential, but the new management does recognise this. We’re now watching Network Rail in much greater detail and getting much more data from them.”
The poor performance included missing deadlines or being behind schedule on a quarter of the projects designed to increase capacity, at a time when there are more passengers on the rail network than at any time since the 1920s.
These projects included electrification between Rutherglen and Coatbridge in Scotland and lengthening platforms between London Marylebone and Birmingham Moor Street on the Chiltern Mainline. The report said: “This has raised serious questions as to how the company will deliver the ambitious programme expected in CP5 [the new five-year investment plan], particularly the electrification projects.”
The news is embarrassing for Network Rail as it has only just been reclassified as a public sector body, having previously enjoyed greater freedom from government as an independent organisation. Mr Price added that the “chickens have come home to roost” as a result of years of under-investment in Britain’s rail infrastructure.
Mr Carne said: “The railway continues to see strong growth in passenger numbers. However, we know that there are too many passengers that do not get the level of reliability they have a right to expect.”Reuse content