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Network Rail fined £2m over licence breach

Network Rail will have to pay a potential £2m fine for breaching its licence over its poor performance on Southern, Govia Thameslink (GTR) and in Scotland in 2014-15, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has stated. 

A failure to produce a “robust” timetable also contributed to the major disruption seen at London Bridge in recent months. 

Following an investigation into the infrastructure owner, the regulator said that performance on these three passenger routes were “below expectations” and “missed punctuality targets” in 2014-15. 

Network Rail can only avoid the fine by offering “reparations” for affected passengers instead. 

While the ORR said there was no systemic weaknesses in Network Rail’s performance delivery, its board took into consideration the repeated past errors by Network Rail on timetabling, lack of liaison with operators and not planning ahead for passengers. 

The investigation found that Network Rail did not do everything reasonably practicable to deliver the reliability and punctuality needed to support the train services provided by Southern, GTR and in Scotland. 

ORR’s analysis showed that for Southern and GTR there were serious weaknesses in the data which informed the new timetables. For example, a number of the timetable modelling assumptions made were incorrect as they were based on flawed data. 

At a meeting on 13 May 2015, Network Rail stated that the timetable modelling was based on existing Timetable Planning Rules (TPRs) and that a number of assumptions fed into the timetable modelling were “incorrect”. Specifically, there were no allowances made for drivers and signallers to become familiar with the new layout, or Southern’s Professional Driving Policy (PDP). 

ORR said Network Rail was overly optimistic in estimating and assessing the impact of the new timetable on performance. It significantly underestimated the impact of the Thameslink programme on performance, which was further exacerbated by a timetable that was not robust. These issues resulted in very severe disruptions and frustrations for passengers using London Bridge station. 

It was noted that findings demonstrate that the underestimation and resulting detrimental impact of performance was likely the result of “flawed assumptions and an approach which was construction led rather than operational”. 

The regulator noted that key activities such as timetabling and modelling, whether as part of a major project or renewal or maintenance, is part of NR’s core function. “Our findings suggest a need for more robust quality assurance processes in its timetable modelling and a better understanding of the impact of timetabling on operating services in practice”. 

In Scotland, there were numerous errors in the December 2014 timetable caused by a number of factors including a lack of quality assurance and detailed planning. 

ORR chief executive Richard Price said:  “Our investigation has identified important issues that Network Rail, working with operators, needs to address to improve performance for passengers on these routes. Our analysis shows that the company needs to develop a much better understanding of the impact of timetabling on the reliability of services and on rail users. 

“These serious issues have caused severe disruption and frustration for passengers, most notably affecting services at and around London Bridge. ORR is therefore imposing a £2m fine on Network Rail – a decision we did not take lightly. The scale of the delays suffered by passengers was central to our decision to fine. The penalty sends a clear message to the Network Rail Board; Network Rail must urgently rectify these errors and deliver the reliability of services that passengers have paid for.” 

Phil Hufton, managing director of network operations, Network Rail, said: “At the start of this year we had a number of problems that caused passengers disruption and frustration and we apologise for this. Since then we have proactively invested over £11m to improve performance for Southern and Thameslink passengers. 

“This investment, which has seen the introduction of a revised timetable, improved equipment, the deployment of rapid-response maintenance teams at London Bridge as well as new information screens and better passenger information, is paying dividends and passenger service reliability has now improved by almost 12% since January.” 

He added that while the “nuts and bolts” of Network Rail’s infrastructure “are the most reliable they’ve even been” severe congestion caused by record numbers of trains and passengers makes delivering a consistently reliable service “a daily challenge for ourselves and the train operators”. 

ORR also conducted a separate safety investigation into the disruptions at London Bridge which found that while passenger information and pedestrian flow management could have been better, safety of passengers was not compromised. 

With regards to London Bridge, Hufton said that Network Rail is undertaking the biggest and most complex station and track redevelopment ever attempted on Britain’s railways – while simultaneously continuing to keep services running.

Mick Cash, general secretary at the RMT rail union, stated that with Network Rail being a publicly owned body, the ORR imposing multi-million pound fines is “effectively the taxpayer fining themselves and that is a ludicrous way to run a railway”. 

He said the fines will have to be paid for by axing works ‎or cutting staff, creating a vicious cycle of decline that is self-defeating and will just mean more fines and more cuts in the future which is a nonsense. 

“There are deep-seated issues around fragmentation and a proliferation of contractors and agencies on our tracks‎, alongside a national skills shortage and budget pressures, which are compromising infra-structure projects and which will not be dealt with by handing out fines that simply compound the problems,” said Cash.

(Image: c. Alastair Grant - PA images)


Neil Palmer   11/08/2015 at 05:40

Wow - there's a first time for everything. I actually agree with Mick Cash.

Dan   11/08/2015 at 12:47

To echo what Neil said: Mick Cash is talking great sense here.

Lutz   11/08/2015 at 20:41

I agree with the RMT for once; instead of fining company, the staff responsible must be held directly responsible, with the fines being taken from their own wages & bonuses.

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