Watchdog to probe Network Rail after upgrade targets missed

12 Jun 15

Regulators have launched an investigation into the performance of government-owned Network Rail after finding it had failed to meet a series of targets in its multi-billion pound upgrade programme.

In its annual review of the performance of the rail network operator, the Office of Rail and Road said a number of enhancements, including parts of the electrification of rail lines in the northwest of England, had been delayed.

Overall, 39% of project completion outputs and 34% of project development regulated outputs were missed in 2014/15, the watchdog said, and it would now conduct an investigation into Network Rail’s capability to deliver its full range of schemes.

The report also highlighted that rail punctuality and reliability was below expectations on some routes, including in Southern and Thameslink franchise areas where upgrades are currently ongoing.

ORR chief executive Richard Price said Network Rail had “made a slow start in delivering on its enhancements and performance targets” in so-called Control Period 5, which runs from 2014 to 2019.

The firm needed to demonstrate how it would get back on schedule, he added.

“The company is also falling short of its own targets on completing renewals works for the upkeep of the rail network. While there is good performance on the East Coast mainline and the freight sector, overall reliability on some routes such as the Southern, Thameslink and Scotland routes are below requirements.

“ORR is investigating Network Rail’s performance improvement plans and delivery of enhancements. This work will help identify the issues the company needs to address to improve train performance, increase capacity and deliver on its commitments to passengers.”

However, Price also highlighted that Britain's railways have seen a record rise in passenger numbers as well as freight activity in the last decade, with a 59.1% hike in passenger journeys and a 9.1% increase in freight usage.

Responding to the report, a Network Rail spokesman said the firm recognised the scale of the challenge and had been openly and regularly reporting performance data.

“There are clearly opportunities to improve following decades of under investment in the rail network. However, it is worth highlighting that we operate the safest passenger network in Europe and the railway asset reliability is the best it has ever been. The increase in passengers means that more people are getting to their destination on time than ever before,” he added.

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