The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has strongly criticised Network Rail’s impact on passenger train service performance, and has put the company on a warning for its poor service in the north west and central region in England.
ORR has seen that at a national level Network Rail’s contribution to passenger train delay minutes was 58%, down 1.1% compared with the previous year; however, there are variations across the country.
In the north west and central region where the train operating companies include Northern and Trans Pennine Express, Network Rail’s performance in terms of its contribution to delays remains a concern.
Performance in this region deteriorated in 2018 and failed to substantially recover during 2019. As a result, ORR is investigating the detail of Network Rail’s recently initiated recovery plan further and monitoring its impact to test whether Network Rail is doing all it reasonably can to improve service for passengers.
Conversely, in the Wales and Western region where train operating companies include Great Western Railway and Transport for Wales, Network Rail has delivered its best performance of the last five years.
In Scotland, ORR is also seeing a number of improvements with a 24% reduction in passenger train delay minutes attributed to Network Rail. However, despite this, it remains well below its punctuality targets for both ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper.
John Larkinson, chief executive, Office of Rail and Road said: "The top priority for passengers is that their train arrives on time and that isn’t happening consistently enough across the country. ORR is responsible for looking at how Network Rail contributes to train delays and while there are areas of very good performance such as in Wales and Western region, Network Rail’s performance in North West and Central region is not good enough. That is why we are putting the company on a warning to make sure its improvement plans deliver for passengers."
ORR also looked at the cause of the recent poor performance of Trans Pennine Express (TPE) and found it has been largely the result of train operations. While ORR’s role in holding the train operators to account is limited, it has written to TPE requiring further information on how it is meeting its obligations to communicate information on service disruption.
Network Rail acknowledged it needed to improve its performance, but said it was working hard to change and improve service and reliability.
Tim Shoveller, Network Rail managing director for North West and Central, said: “We, as an industry, have let passengers down in the West Midlands and the north for too long. Train service reliability has fallen far below what passengers expect and deserve. That’s why, in November, we convened a rail industry task force to tackle this head on and improve train service reliability.
“We are working with our industry partners to fix long-standing timetable frailties and support our train operating partners with train crew challenges.
“From a Network Rail perspective, we are moving at pace to change and improve. We have re-structured the North West and Central business into three routes aligned to the markets we serve – bringing greater operational focus and attention to detail.
“On a tactical level, we are committing funds and resources to fix known problems. Just one example is installing flood-preventing water pumps at Warrington. In December the railway flooded at this location causing widespread delays. Following heavy rain this month, our new pumps averted a repeat.”
ORR is now in the second stage of its investigation and says the actions it could decide to take vary, depending on the nature, severity and urgency of the issue, the ability of stakeholders to intervene and Network Rail’s response to the issue.
If Network Rail is unable to resolve issues, ORR could consider enforcement action, which incudes possible financial sanctions on routes (or the system operator) that would affect Network Rail management bonuses rather than passengers.