Network Rail faces fines after worst performance in four years

The rail regulator has told Network Rail to improve its performance or face fines after the punctuality and reliability of Britain’s train services slumped this summer.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said problems in implementing the new timetable in May, as well as extreme weather, had contributed to the worst performance since 2014, possibly breaching Network Rail’s licence conditions.

It has given the public sector body that manages Britain’s rail infrastructure three months to take action and report back on how it will improve.

Failure to provide updates and evidence of progress could leave it open to further action, financial penalties or legal action from train operators.

From next April managers’ bonuses could also be at stake under a new policy, the ORR said.

The ORR is responsible only for monitoring Network Rail, but it noted that other independent reviews had highlighted many areas where train operators needed to make improvements.

It said the reviews had shown weaknesses both in planning for and recovering from railway failures.

John Larkinson, the ORR’s chief executive, said: “Today’s decision is a clear demonstration of ORR’s approach to how we will hold Network Rail to account.

“Passengers and freight customers rely on Network Rail for punctual and reliable train services and the evidence we have collected suggests to us that Network Rail is failing to take all reasonable steps to effectively manage performance and recover from incidents on its network. This is a capability issue which must be addressed urgently.”

Network Rail has been investigated for its part in problems on South Western and Govia Thameslink rail services. It was also blamed for delays in approving timetables for Northern, which contributed heavily to the widespread disruption to services in the north this year.

Andrew Haines, Network Rail’s chief executive, said: “We know that train performance has not been what our passengers deserve. We have let them down and we take responsibility for the part we have played in poor train service reliability.

“Network Rail is fully committed to leading the industry back to higher levels of performance both through our own measures and actions and by working closely with our industry partners.”

He said in the next control period from April 2019 – the five-year budget terms under which Network Rail operates – devolution would speed up to deliver “greater power and accountability to our routes, enabling us to work closer together with train operators and deliver better services for passengers”.

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