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10.06.14

Cutting costs a big challenge for Network Rail – MPs question Carne

Improving safety, capacity and reliability on the railway network, while reducing costs for passengers, are key challenges that need to be addressed by Network Rail in the future, according to the company’s chief executive Mark Carne. 

Making his first appearance in front of the Transport Select Committee, he stated that in 2013 more than 1.6bn people travelled by rail in Britain. The last time that number of passengers was achieved was in the 1920s. 

He also stated that since privatisation in the mid-1990s passenger numbers have more than doubled. However, he conceded that costs are too high. 

“Ticket prices are a major concern for the travelling public. And although we don’t set the prices our costs are a large part of the total costs in the rail system and we need to drive down our cost,” said Carne. 

The man who replaces Sir David Higgins at Network Rail’s helm also stated that there has to be a major effort put in place to improve the network’s reliability. 

He said: “We know that we didn’t do a good enough job in CP4 [Control Period 4, from 2009-14] to really deliver the reliability customers want and expect.” 

Carne noted that last year was disappointing right across the network as Network Rail failed to meet the punctuality targets set by the ORR. 

However, in Network Rail’s defence, he stated that there were three main reasons for this. Firstly, the network was much busier leading to greater congestion; secondly there was dreadful weather in three of the winters of the last five year period which, unquestionably, had an impact on the network; and thirdly “we didn’t make the improvements in the underlying reliability of the network we said we would do and should have done”. 

Going forward, he hopes that by creating greater alliances with contractors and train operating companies it will drive efficiencies across the network. And by investing in extra capacity he hopes to reduce congestion levels. 

After mentioning the extreme winter weather of recent years, and in particular the effect this had on Dawlish, Carne stated that “we need to make the railway more resilient to climate change, so we don’t have the same level of impact from extreme weather. And we need to do a better job to make the network more reliable”. 

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