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Network Rail reviewing all spring 2015 contingency plans as ORR steps in

Network Rail must make sure contingency planning for possession works is “fit for purpose” in the future, after project overruns at King’s Cross and Paddington over Christmas caused chaos to thousands of travellers, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) has stated.

Last month Network Rail produced an internal report into the incidents, and the regulator has now published its own review following an investigation.

The ORR stated that over the two days it estimates that more than 115,000 passengers were affected in some way by the disruption. And while there were examples of good service from individual members of staff, the overall service passengers received was “not acceptable” and led to “widespread confusion, frustration, disruption, discomfort and anxiety”.

One of the key recommendations the ORR has made is that NR must put passenger needs, welfare and safety at a time of disruption at the heart of its and train operators’ contingency arrangements.

Despite NR delivering more than 98% of the complex engineering works planned for the Christmas and New Year period on time, ORR stated that there were “significant weaknesses” in the planning and oversight of the King’s Cross and Paddington works, and how communication was managed when overruns occurred.

ORR said that within the planning process which NR follows, it should ensure that it identifies risks to delaying train services as well as handing the possession back on time. This is particularly relevant where it is intended that train services are planned to operate during staged works as at Paddington and before the possession is handed back in its entirety as was intended at King’s Cross.

In minimising the impact on passengers NR has been told it needs to understand in real-time how the risk of a possession overrun has changed and effectively communicate this upwardly within NR and externally to train operators.

It has also been recommended that NR should review the processes it has in place for site reporting, including consideration of the arrangements in place for management of contractors.

With support from train operators, NR must also look at the arrangements it has in place for managing the control of an overrun incident, with a command structure covering all elements of an incident including train planning, station management and communication with passengers.

Joanna Whittington, ORR’s director railway markets and economics and the investigation lead, said: “NR has rightly acknowledged it didn’t do enough for passengers affected by overrunning engineering works at King’s Cross and Paddington this Christmas. While the company generally has a good record for delivering engineering work on time, in this instance passengers were really let down.

“Our investigation found that contingency planning did not fully consider the impact of potential overruns on passengers and that this needs to change. In future, plans will address the impact on passengers as well as engineering and train operation issues. Network Rail cannot achieve this alone, train operators will also need to play their part.

NR is reviewing all contingency plans for works scheduled over Easter and the May 2015 bank holidays. ORR expects Network Rail to have implemented all the recommendations, including those which require work with train operators, in advance of the Christmas 2015 engineering works. The regulator will audit their implementation to make sure the improvements are all in place.

Mark Carne, chief executive of NR, said: “Putting passengers at the heart of our planning is absolutely the right thing to do and we recognise that we let people down during the disruption experienced on 27 and 28 December.

“Over Christmas, we undertook the biggest programme of engineering and investment work ever, upgrading train lines across the country. The overwhelming majority of this work went to plan but in the case of King’s Cross and Paddington we accept we got things wrong.

“Our own report has caused us to look again at the work we have planned this year and the contingency plans we have in place and the ORR’s report underlines the necessity of this work.”

David Sidebottom, director at the independent watchdog Passenger Focus, said: “Thousands of passengers were left angry and frustrated when trying to travel at Christmas. We heard of passengers standing for hours on trains, locked outside stations and left to find out what to do by themselves. This cannot happen again. We welcome this report from the regulator, which echoes our call for industry to put passengers’ experience right at the heart of planning, especially for plans to cope and compensate when things go wrong.”

To view the full ORR investigation report, click here.

(Image source: Stefan Rousseau)

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


Wise Engineer   16/02/2015 at 14:14

Disappointing to read the ORR using divisive language in their report. Holloway was delivered under an Alliance Contract form where the Northern Alliance partners are joint and severally liable for performance of the works. 'Employer' and 'Contractor' are words from history and not relevant to a modern railway. ORR should show Leadership, something sadly lacking in the fragmented UK railway. We deserve better for tax payer money.

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