Network Rail accepts role in ‘unacceptable SWR disruption’ linked to poor recovery plans

Outdated contingency plans, poor incident responses, and incomplete ‘lessons learned’ review were amongst the key culprits behind Network Rail’s major role in contributing to delays across South Western Railway (SWR).

In a review, the rail regulator found that SWR trains arriving on time dropped from 90.5% in 2015-16 to just 84.3% in 2017-18, with Network Rail to blame for 68% of this delay.

Despite the number of network-related incidents remaining stable, the ORR found that it is taking longer to restore normal service and recover after a problem happens.

Worryingly, contingency plans – which provide options for what action to take in times of disruption – hadn’t been updated since 2011, and processes for how to respond to incidents – such as who should lead it and the steps to be taken – were not always followed.

For example, after a fatal incident the relevant signalling centre was not involved in the conference call during which staff agreed an action plan.

The ORR also found that ‘lessons learned’ review didn’t always happen and, even when they did, there was limited evidence that such lessons were put into practice.

Graham Richards, the ORR’s railway planning and performance lead, said: “Passengers using SWR have faced unacceptable disruption in recent months. When things go wrong, it is essential that Network Rail works efficiently to get back to normal service as quickly as possible.

“Our investigation found that Network Rail has not updated its processes to keep pace with the changes on the route. We will be looking closely to ensure it addresses our findings.”

Network Rail accepted the findings and will be monitored by the regulator to guarantee progress in developing and implementing improvement plans.

But the ORR did accept that performance issues were not down to Network Rail alone. It has shared these findings with Michael Holden to inform his ongoing disruption review.


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