ORR report finds that Network Rail performed positively despite COVID-19
ORR has praised Network Rail for its performance during the COVID-19 pandemic, but has outlined that efforts need to improve in the North West.
Credit: Office of Rail and Road
In the third and final part of its mid-year report on Network Rail, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has praised the company for making a positive contribution to keeping the railway open for business and running punctually, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, ORR notes the need for continued attention to improvements to train service performance in the North West.
In the first half of 2020-21, Network Rail and the industry delivered high levels of train performance that reversed a long-term downward trend over the last few years. The percentage of trains arriving on-time at stations was 75 per cent in November 2020, compared to 65 per cent before the pandemic.
ORR notes that reduced service levels and passenger numbers have been a factor in improved punctuality, but it is evident that Network Rail has focused on strengthening its performance management capability, including taking steps to learn from the pandemic and deliver improvement plans.
Before COVID-19, passenger train performance was particularly poor in the North West & Central region, and an ORR investigation found that it required a number of improvements. Given the pandemic, the regulator has found that Network Rail has made reasonable progress against the majority of these improvements but that more still needs to be done.
Asset management still needs to improve and progress is required in working with train operators to facilitate the introduction of new trains. ORR has said that it will keep these areas under review.
The Chief Executive of ORR, John Larkinson, said: “In these exceptional times, Network Rail has played a vital role in keeping the railway open and running punctually to ensure that passengers and freight are kept moving. While train performance is currently excellent compared to historic levels, Network Rail must continue its work with the industry on the fundamentals of good performance planning and management and learning from performance during the pandemic. This will help retain performance gains as passenger numbers increase.”
“Following our earlier investigation into passenger train performance in the North West and Central region, Network Rail has made reasonably good overall progress against the improvements we required, given the difficult operating conditions, but progress has been slower than expected on some aspects of asset management and train operations,” he added.
Robert Nisbet, Director of Nations and Regions at the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), said: “Train companies have increased cleaning, improved information and maximised space on trains to help people travel with confidence and, when the time is right, we want to do more to incentivise people back on to trains to benefit passengers, the environment and businesses across Britain. To do that, we’re keen to work with the government to introduce flexible tickets that would give better value to commuters who plan to work from home more, along with wider industry proposals to enable train operators to better respond to the rapidly evolving needs of their customers.”