ORR requests for further Network Rail action to retain railway performance
As more passengers return to rail, Britain’s Office of Rail and Road (ORR) is calling for Network Rail to take action to retain a railway which more reflects the train service performance improvements seen during the pandemic.
Credit: Office of Rail and Road (ORR)
The ORR has stated that while performance currently remains better than before the COVID-19 pandemic, it declined over the last six months as passenger numbers more than doubled and train services increased, but with regional variations.
Network Rail’s Wales and Western region showed the largest deterioration in train service performance from the end of 2020 to 2021. Delays attributed to track failures and temporary speed restrictions due to track condition have contributed to this.
The rail regulator’s mid-year report has looked at Network Rail’s contribution to performance. The ORR found that while Network Rail had taken steps to learn from the high levels of performance seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, it still had more to do to build better performing timetables.
To retain a railway which more reflects the train service performance improvements seen during the pandemic, over the next six months, ORR is calling for Network Rail to:
- Deliver improvements to address the issues in its Wales and Western region
- Continue to embed improved performance management capabilities, and work with the industry to develop a credible plan for the £40 million Performance Innovation Fund. This fund was established by the ORR to support innovative ways to drive performance improvements and so far only £7.6 million has been used
- Work with industry to develop a clear plan for resolving timetabling and access rights on the East Coast Main Line
- Demonstrate that it is engaging on, and influencing, service specifications and the timetable elsewhere on the network to ensure that decisions around performance and capacity are well-informed
- Update its performance plans and targets to reflect revised service levels and usage across the network.
John Larkinson, the ORR’s Chief Executive, said: “The pandemic continues to have an impact on all aspects of running the railway, including staff availability and passenger usage. In that context, Network Rail and the wider industry are continuing to deliver their essential services well. As passenger numbers and freight continue to grow, a reliable and punctual train service performance will be a priority for all users.”
John continued: “So, it is important that Network Rail delivers on its own commitments to maintain the network in good condition and also provides clear information on timetable choices. Network Rail must work with the wider industry to address performance and capacity challenges and do so transparently to ensure confidence and that funders are able to take well informed decisions.”
The ORR has also now closed its 18-month investigation into Network Rail’s impact on poor performance in the North West and Central (NW&C) region.
The investigation focused on whether Network Rail had identified key factors impacting train performance in the region and had set time-bound plans to address them.
In its final assessment, the ORR confirms that despite some disappointment at the pace of progress on delivering certain recommendations, it is now content that Network Rail has shown a genuine commitment to improve performance and has addressed all 25 of the ORR’s recommendations.