Network Rail hit with £2m fine for service disruption

10 Aug 15

Network Rail has been fined £2m after being found to be in breach of its licence by the rail watchdog following disruption to services in both London and Scotland.

The Office of Rail and Road levied the fine on the state-owned firm, which owns and operates Britain’s railways, after finding problems with both the Thameslink upgrade programme in the capital and overall punctuality in Scotland in 2014/15.

The watchdog’s probe began before transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin also announced a scaling back the government’s £38bn rail investment programme because Network Rail’s investment programme were costing more than anticipated.

According to today’s ORR report, Network Rail’s performance fell below expectations, with missed punctuality targets in the year. Franchises on the Thameslink route, where upgrades have focused on London Bridge station, accounted for a third of punctuality delays and nearly half of cancelled and significantly delayed services in England and Wales in this period.

Although the watchdog found no “systemic weaknesses” in Network Rail’s performance delivery, the firm did not do everything reasonably practicable to deliver the reliability and punctuality needed to support the train services in both London and Scotland.

For example, there were serious weaknesses in the data that informed the revised timetables on the Thameslink route, which disrupted services, while the firm was also overly optimistic in estimating how these would impact on train punctuality.

In Scotland, there were numerous errors in the December 2014 timetable caused by a number of factors including a lack of quality assurance and detailed planning, and performance dipped particularly around the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup last year.

ORR chief executive Richard Price said the investigation has identified important issues that Network Rail needed to address.

“ORR is therefore imposing a £2m fine on Network Rail – a decision we did not take lightly. The scale of the delays suffered by passengers was central to our decision to fine. The penalty sends a clear message to the Network Rail board; Network Rail must urgently rectify these errors and deliver the reliability of services that passengers have paid for.”

Although the fine has been proposed, the regulatory system now gives Network Rail an opportunity to offer reparations for affected passengers, instead of having to pay the ORR.

Responding to the announcement, Phil Hufton, Network Rail’s managing director of network operations, warned that as the firm was now a public sector organisation, the fine would need to come from within its existing budget and would mean a reallocation of resources.

“At the start of this year we had a number of problems that caused passengers disruption and frustration and we apologise for this. Since then we have proactively invested over £11m to improve performance for Southern and Thameslink passengers,” he added.

"This investment, which has seen the introduction of a revised timetable, improved equipment, the deployment of rapid-response maintenance teams at London Bridge as well as new information screens and better passenger information, is paying dividends and passenger service reliability has now improved by almost 12% since January.”

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