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Network Rail urged to reduce underspend to cut delays

Underspending on maintenance work, deferred infrastructure renewals and engineering works overruns are all contributing to delays, the ORR has warned.

The regulator’s analysis of rail performance covers July – October 2013 and shows that over half of all delays on the network are caused by problems attributable to Network Rail. Over these, half are infrastructure failings.

Between April and October 2013, there were more than 16,600 infrastructure incidents; nearly 5% more than over the same period last year, causing almost 1.7 million minutes of delay to trains nationally.

The deferral of tracks and level crossing works, as well as electrification, has contributed significantly to delays, and Network Rail underspent by nearly £1.2bn allocated for maintenance and asset renewal, the ORR found.

Network Rail is currently between 0.9 and 5.1 percentage points short of currently funded punctuality targets, with 122,600 trains missing performance targets in the second quarter.

Alan Price, ORR’s director of railway planning and performance, said: “Safety has to be Network Rail’s top priority. Beyond that, its focus should be on delivering improved performance and increased capacity on the railways. The company is currently operating with a large underspend and a significant shortfall against the performance targets it signed up to.

“It is also behind schedule on its own maintenance and renewal plans. These factors are now contributing to delays to rail passenger and freight services. Network Rail must utilise its funding efficiently to address the increasing backlog of maintenance and renewals works, and improve performance, as it enters a new five-year delivery plan with more stretching targets.

“ORR has set new regulatory targets from 2014 for Network Rail’s asset management, particularly focusing on how it manages, maintains and renews the rail network. We want the company to move from a ‘find and fix’ approach to maintenance to a ‘predict and prevent’ culture, to reduce the amount of failures affecting services. We see signs of good practice and want to see Network Rail working with train operators to deliver better for customers from the outset of its new delivery plan.”

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