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ORR orders Network Rail to improve

Network Rail workers on train tracks

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has formally ordered Network Rail to improve its performance for the benefit of punctuality and reliability on the UK’s rails.

Network Rail manages the nation’s tracks and other infrastructure, making it partially responsible for the performance of trains. With its half-year Network Rail Monitor covering April to October 2018 showing punctuality and reliability are at their lowest levels since 2014, the ORR has demanded Network Rail shape up.

The ORR says the delays mentioned in its report can be put down to factors such as “extreme weather and problems implementing the May 2018 timetable”.

The publicly-owned Network Rail has admitted its own failings in the nationwide timetable change, which resulted in weeks of chaos for passengers across the GTR network and Northern services.

An interim report by the ORR on the timetable change found serious failings on the part of Network Rail, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), Northern, the Department for Transport and the ORR itself.

The ORR says evidence from its reviews into train performance “indicate weaknesses specifically with both Network Rail’s approach to performance planning and its capability to recover services following incidents”.

The regulator believes Network Rail may be contravening Licence Condition 1: Network Management, which sets out the organisation’s obligation to secure the operation, maintenance, renewal and enhancement of the network.

Today’s Provisional Order – the first to be issued by ORR against Network Rail in a decade, according to the BBC – requires Network Rail and its route managing directors to take ‘urgent action’ to address failings.

The ORR is demanding the organisation work with train operators to develop actions to address the causes of delays. It has given Network Rail until 15 February 2019 to deliver a report on how it is identifying such issues and how it plans to improve. Network Rail will also have to provide regular updates until it delivers this report.

Network Rail is in a better place now than it was five years ago to deliver the volumes of work required and improve efficiency, but its “plans to make efficiency savings are less advanced than they need to be”, according to the ORR.

John Larkinson, CEO of the ORR, commented: “Today’s decision is a clear demonstration of ORR’s approach to how we will hold Network Rail to account. Passengers and freight customers rely on Network Rail for punctual and reliable train services and the evidence we have collected suggests to us that Network Rail is failing to take all reasonable steps to effectively manage performance and recover from incidents on its network. This is a capability issue which must be addressed urgently. We need to act now rather than wait for the end of the financial year to ensure Network Rail is ready for the start of the next control period, CP6, on 1 April 2019.”

Responding to the order, Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines, who took over from former CEO Mark Carne in August, said: “We know that train performance has not been what our passengers deserve. We have let them down and we take responsibility for the part we have played in poor train service reliability. Network Rail is fully committed to leading the industry back to higher levels of performance both through our own measures and actions and by working closely with our industry partners.”

The news comes after transport secretary Chris Grayling said he would take steps to punish Govia Thameslink Railway for its part in the poor performance of its Thameslink, Great Northern and Southern franchises, which could include stripping the company of those franchises.

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