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Network Rail dodges ORR fine with £4m London improvement fund

Network Rail has found a way out of the Office of Rail and Road’s (ORR’s) £2m licence breach fine by creating a £4.1m improvement fund for routes into London Bridge and London Victoria.

The fund, agreed with the ORR, will help improve routes served by Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express trains, by increasing reliability, punctuality and the overall passenger experience.

The three operators were plagued with poor performance in 2014-15 as a result of Network Rail’s failure to produce a robust timetable, ultimately leading to severe disruption, missed punctuality targets and routes “below expectations”.

Last year, RTM also reported on the major disruption caused during the re-building of London Bridge as part of the Thameslink project – including seven separate signal failures as a result of cable damage and equipment failure.

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

The regulator threatened in August to fine the infrastructure owner £2m unless it offered reparations for affected passengers.

Network Rail was originally given a deadline of 1 September to make representations or objections to the ORR, but asked for an extension to 11 September, and then later to 13 November,  to “allow the company to submit options for possible reparations to mitigate the penalty”.

Today (1 December), Network Rail’s managing director for network operations, Phil Hufton, announced that the organisation was able to identify cash amounting to double the originally proposed fine, all of which will go towards passenger improvement works.

He said: “Passengers expect and deserve a high standard of service, and we accept that we fell short for those travelling on Southern and Thameslink services last year.

“This extra £4m will continue the improvements we have already made and it is good news for passengers that the ORR has recognised this as a positive and practical alternative to a fine.”

Among the intended improvements are plans to increase staff numbers at London terminus stations, including 15 extra workers at London Victoria. This will be matched with up to four times as many security patrols at stations in Sussex to reduce delays caused by trespassers.

Network Rail will also commit to 20 new fast-response staff based at Brighton and Croydon depots to tackle track problems, as well as improvements to passenger information displays at stations.


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