Network Rail fined for missed punctuality targets

Network Rail has told it must pay back £53.1 million for missing punctuality targets between 2009 and 2014.

Publishing its CP4 review, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) praised Network Rail for delivering the vast majority of its ambitious enhancements programme on time and to budget but found the infrastructure manager lacking in some areas of its operational performance.

Of 118 projects delivered throughout the last five years, 98 were completed on time or early.

The ORR also highlighted Network Rail’s significant investment in the UK’s strategic freight network.

Punctuality on long-distance passenger services, however, fell below its 92 per cent target to 86.9 per cent.

The ORR said “Network Rail did not deliver all of its plans to improve performance and, particularly in the early years of the funding period, had insufficient knowledge of the condition of its key assets, such as earthworks, electrical equipment and drainage”.

Punctuality for London and the South East (LSE) also fell below its target for 2013-14, achieving 89.6 per cent rather than an average of 93 per cent.

ORR chief executive Richard Price said: “Network Rail has been successful in modernising and improving Britain’s railways over the past five years, during a period which has seen a record rise in passenger numbers.

“Punctuality is important to passengers. Network Rail committed to improve train punctuality between 2009 and 2014, and was funded to do so. But it did not deliver its commitments for passengers who travel on long distance and London and South East services. Network Rail fell significantly short of punctuality for long distance services, so it is right that money is returned to funders.

“The company will be undertaking extensive maintenance and renewal work to improve punctuality on long distance services between 2014 and 2019. It has committed extra funds to improve the resilience of the rail network in London and the South East for better reliability of services in the future.

Mark Carne, Network Rail’s new chief executive said: “This is a time of unprecedented growth and record levels of investment in Britain’s railways. As a result, today we have the safest, most improved passenger railway in Europe.

“We accept that we have fallen short of the regulatory targets for train punctuality and that this is, in part, down to our failure to reduce infrastructure faults quickly enough. At the same time, the sharp increase in passenger demand has led us to run more trains at peak times, even when we know this will lead to a more congested railway and that punctuality may suffer.

“Passengers do want trains to run on time, but for many of them the more pressing priority is increased services with less crowding. The trade-off between congestion and punctuality is something we face every day.

“The industry is now benefitting from significant funding but there remain challenges following many decades of underinvestment. Getting train reliability back on track is a key priority for us over the next three years in particular and we have good plans to improve the underlying reliability of our assets alongside significant investment to increase capacity and relieve congestion.

“I am confident that by the end of this control period we will meet and indeed exceed the regulatory performance targets.”