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ORR set out decisions needed to deliver timetable improvements

The ORR has set out the key decisions needed for the successful delivery of the West Coast Main Line and East Coast Main Line timetable projects.

ORR timetable

Credit: ORR

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has set out its view on actions needed for the West Coast Main Line (WCML) and East Coast Main Line (ECML) after their major timetable projects reached crucial decision-making points. The new timetables aim to lead to a more efficient use of capacity and better resilience to disruption. This will support performance for the benefit of both passengers and train operators.

In a letter to Network Rail and Department for Transport (DfT), ORR set out its understanding of the necessary decisions and issues needing resolution to ensure successful delivery.

Planned for December 2022, the West Coast Main Line (WCML) project is now less than 40 weeks from implementation. However, the ORR feels that the following issues need further progress to support the timetable delivery.

  • Network Rail needs to communicate its plan for access and processes for timetabling. Operators (and their funders) will then need to act in line with that plan
  • Contractually, train and freight operators should have submitted timetable applications by now, providing operators and Network Rail with a certainty on the train services they can run
  • Network Rail and DfT need to ensure ongoing power supply and platforming projects conclude as planned
  • In producing the timetable, Network Rail also needs to provide its conclusions on capacity and performance for existing access applications. Only then can ORR determine any disputed applications for this section of the network.

The East Coast Main Line (ECML) project has not yet confirmed the timetable it will implement in May 2023. Given the complexity of the options being considered and issues to resolve here, key decisions need to be made by Network Rail and DfT soon.

  • A decision on the extra platform capacity issue at Newcastle is needed by May 2022
  • A plan is needed to resolve access and timetabling applications in time, in accordance with contractual obligations. Operators (supported by their funders) will then need to act in accordance with the plan
  • Network Rail needs to manage the inclusion of freight access applications into the timetable and its projects to mitigate performance impacts.

The ECML has faced access rights and timetabling issues for several years. Delaying decisions beyond April 2022 risks the same late decision on go/no-go as seen in 2021. This resulted in uncertainty for train and freight operators requesting access to the network.

“The industry has worked together well to deliver service pattern changes for recent timetables, but these were not full recasts of services at this level of complexity,” John Larkinson, Chief Executive for ORR, said. “Timely decisions are now needed to show lessons have been learnt and to provide passenger and freight train operators with certainty when planning services.”