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Passenger travel continues to rise as Network Rail increases expenditure

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) has published its National rail review and Network Rail monitor covering the first quarter of 2007-08.

The main trends for the 1st quarter show yet more growth in passenger usage, improving punctuality, and higher levels of investment in improving the network for passengers.

Challenges remain, such as the performance of Network Rail's western route, the delivery of modernisation to the West Coast route, and battling with adverse weather conditions.

ORR chief executive Bill Emery said: "There has been a small improvement in overall punctuality, as well as a larger increase in the number of passengers using the network. Network Rail plans to significantly increase expenditure on enhancements, which will be of benefit to both passengers and the freight sector.

"The torrential rain in June caused major disruption to the railway network in some parts of the country. We recognise that these were unprecedented conditions. We are satisfied that as much as possible was done to minimise disruption, including the swift implementation of emergency timetables. We are confident Network Rail and their partners will learn from these events and improve their contingency planning.

"However, performance on Network Rail's western route continues to disappoint; and we expect to see improvements. The joint performance improvement plan requires action from both the train operator and Network Rail to bring about changes. If we conclude that Network Rail could and should have been doing more than they have been, we will take enforcement action."

The National rail review - Q1 (April to June) 2007-08 features a number of key industry issues, including:

• Increasing passenger usage - last year passengers travelled 46.5 billion kilometres on railway journeys, representing an increase of 7.6% over 2005-06.

• Growth in freight - total freight moved continued to grow in 2006-07, albeit at a slower rate than in previous years. In 2006-07, 22.11 billion net tonne kilometres were moved, which represents an increase of 1.9% over 2005-06.

• Station redevelopment - Network Rail and train operators face a challenge to assemble a coherent and robust plan that fully utilises the funding made available by the government for the next control period.

• Electricity charges - the increase in electricity costs determines the charge paid by train operators to Network Rail. Train operators and Network Rail have been discussing whether the resulting level of charge reflects Network Rail's cost of buying electricity (as the charge is intended to do). Network Rail has agreed to tie the charges in with the actual cost of electricity.

National rail review also identifies a number of challenges for the industry, including:

• Adverse weather - the end of this reporting quarter has been characterised by flooding, which seriously impeded some parts of the network. All parts of the industry responded well to the difficulties, but there are lessons that can be learned in terms of contingency planning for the future.

• 7-day railway: Network Rail is leading the development of a strategy to deliver a railway that runs for the whole week minimising disruptions to passengers. Their plan is that within a seven-year timescale, disruption to passengers caused by planned engineering work will be minimised.

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