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Network Rail to be probed over Christmas chaos

Network Rail officials are to be probed by the Transport Select Committee after over-running engineering works at King’s Cross and Paddington over Christmas left thousands of commuters stranded, and the rail operator facing a potential multi-million pound fine. 

The hearing date has been pushed back by a week from 7 January to 14 January, following “representations” from Network Rail. Committee chair Louise Ellman MP said: “This will allow my Committee to hold an evidence session informed by the work that Mark Carne has commissioned from Dr Francis Paonessa (Network Rail’s infrastructure projects director).” 

Dr Paonessa’s report on the sequence of events and decision making that led to the problems experienced at King’s Cross and Paddington will be completed on 9 January. 

“In responding to our questions I expect Network Rail to explain what went wrong and account for what happened,” said Ellman. 

“It is vital that the rail industry delivers a safe, high quality and efficient service to passengers. It is also vital that the public has confidence in the industry. Passengers deserve a detailed explanation of the causes of disruption, the steps that need to be taken to prevent recurrence and the lessons that need to be learned.” 

Christmas chaos 

On Boxing Day, East Coast Trains confirmed that there would be no train services in or out of London King’s Cross, one of the country’s busiest terminals, on Saturday 27 December because of over-running Network Rail engineering works north of the station. 

Network Rail had been carrying out Thameslink upgrade works to install OLE for the ECML close to King’s Cross. It has been alleged that part of the problem lay in the failure of sub-contracted engineering drivers to turn up to work. 

c. Stefan Rousseau resize 635558052129474000

The operator advised passengers due to travel from King's Cross on the Saturday to start or finish their journey at Finsbury Park in north London, with at least one change of train. However, this station was closed temporarily because of overcrowding. 

King's Cross station reopened on 28 December following the completion of late-running improvement work north of the station. But the delays continued, with a signalling fault outside King’s Cross delaying trains by 40 minutes. 

Robin Gisby, Network Rail’s outgoing managing director of network operations, said: “I would like to sincerely apologise for the upset and upheaval passengers suffered yesterday as our engineers struggled to complete an essential improvement project that had been months in planning.” 

In addition to the problems at King’s Cross, people hoping to travel from Reading to London Paddington over the weekend faced delays and cancellations after engineering work, once again, overran. 

First Great Western advised Paddington passengers to use alternative routes with South West Trains and Chiltern Trains and offered refunds to travellers who chose not to travel on Saturday. In fact, most services into Paddington during the period were being stopped at Reading. 


Following the over-runs, the Office of Rail Regulation said it would open a formal probe into why the maintenance work had not been completed in time, as well as the quality of information provided to passengers and any compensation owed. 

“Network Rail, working with the rest of the industry, must learn lessons and prevent problems like this happening again,” said an ORR spokesman. 

“ORR is investigating over-running works. We will also be reviewing the standard of passenger information during disruptions – with a focus on whether passengers have been adequately informed to make alternative arrangements to their journeys or claim compensation.”

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said he will be asking Network Rail for an explanation as thousands of passengers faced disruption due to overrunning engineering works. 

He said the situation on the railways over the weekend had been “totally unacceptable”. 

“Passengers must be able to trust that vital engineering works on the rail network will be completed on time. Passengers deserve no less,” he added. 

From a passenger perspective, Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Passenger Focus, said that there will be thousands of passengers left angry and frustrated by the weekend’s events. 

“We have heard and seen passengers standing for hours on trains, locked outside stations and left to find out what to do by themselves,” he said. “Passengers booked tickets and made travel plans based on the promises made the industry. That trust has been broken.” 

He added that every passenger affected by the problems at the weekend should claim compensation. 

Ahead of the upcoming transport committee hearing, Mark Carne, Network Rail’s CEO, said: “Following the problems experienced at King’s Cross and Paddington over Christmas, I have instructed Dr Francis Paonessa, who is the Network Rail infrastructure projects director, to provide a report into the sequence of events and associated decision making that led to the problems experienced and to advise any immediate steps that we need to take to increase the robustness of our works delivery capability. I expect the report by the end of next week and I intend to publish the findings.” 

He added that the events over the Christmas period highlighted the “unacceptable impact on the travelling public when plans go wrong”. 

“I therefore propose that there should also be a broader, industry-wide review, into the timing of our major works programmes and the passenger contingency arrangements for such works,” he added. 

Carne has confirmed that he will not take his bonus following the outcry over the major rail disruption over the Christmas period. 

(Images: c. Stefan Rousseau)

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


Julian Cope   02/01/2015 at 13:15

The repeated problems on the FGW line into Paddington are really not acceptable. This has been an on-going source of frustration and inconvenience for passengers for the last three months, not just Christmas. I believe that the proposed rail fare increases should be levied against Network Rail instead of us poor saps who are expected to simply accept everything without question.

Alan Stamp   02/01/2015 at 13:40

Interesting comment regarding compensation for passengers from Anthony Smith, if you read the Train Operators T&C you will find they are not liable to compensate you as it is not their fault. You can't claim from NR as your contract is with the Train Operator. Any fines leveled at NR will go to the Goverment and thetraveling public just get the rail fare rises. Excellent System.

Arnold Brandreth   02/01/2015 at 14:14

what is the point of fining railtrack it is owned by the public? what fine will the contractor get? zero!! always apologies, why hasn't mark carny at railrack been sacked running an oil rig a lot different than running a railway

Tony Barnes   02/01/2015 at 15:37

Not forgetting these possessions are planned 1 year out, the operatives claim VERY good money, plus time off in lieu, the weather was agreeable ( so they cannot claim the wrong snow or leaves) .. Get to the route of the business ...The band 1,2 & 3 management, that have been in post too long therefore losing any incentive and ownership , other than their easy 20% bonuses ... Seen it all before. Shambolic ... But it won't change.

Jak Jay   02/01/2015 at 18:13

Glad to see FGW havent escaped criticism over the ongoing fiasco at Paddington.The irony of all this is if NotWork Fail been a private company with shareholders their shares would have gone through the floor and that lizard Mark Carne would be heading for the exit door. When are people going to wake up to the fact that the fragmenting of Britains railway has been a disaster

NR Employee   02/01/2015 at 20:10

NR is in a funny place at the moment. It is no longer an Engineering-led organisation as the majority of it's Engineering experience has been forced out through various re-organisations with the aim of turning it in to a more bottom-line focused consultancy business. It needs to either lead with project delivery or completely hand over project delivery to professional organisations who have the right resource and capability to deliver on its remit. At the moment the whole business doesn't now what it wants to be doing. Since joining within the last 12 months both Mark Carne and Dr Francis Paonessa have done absolutely nothing but talk. Mark has demonstrated only one objective - focus on safety. This is honourable and right and the whole of the industry supports everyone getting home safely every day, but solely concentrating on that message alone and not looking in to how projects are to be delivered or bringing anything to the business from outside the industry is certainly not a balanced position. There genuinely has been no influence of either Mark or Francis' input in to the business since they started. In fact I am confident that if you were to ask in any NR office the majority of people will most probably never have heard of Francis and know Mark as 'that bloke who goes on about safety.' It is intriguing times for Project Delivery in NR and 2015 will be a very interesting year considering the talent that is left in the business that actually knows, loves and works for the infrastructure has many many opportunities outside NR.

Ex NR Employee   03/01/2015 at 23:38

Bring back Iain Coucher!

Anon   05/01/2015 at 08:57

This article is interesting for four reasons: 1) overruns happen no matter how well you plan but MOST engingeering works are completed on time and without people noticing they've even occured. 2) very few other industries get such levels interogation for what are works that WILL makes passengers lives better and ENSURE safety - yes it causes disruption but I recommend those who think they could do better to come into the industry and prove it! 3) the comments posted show how people are willing to point the finger at these "failures" and demand compensation but do these commentators also demand refunds on their car tax disc every time they are caught in a traffic jam, accident or otherwise delayed on the roads? 4) the journalism is sloppy and sensationlist (... after engineering work, once again, overran.) and the signal faults after handback at KX. The rail industry is doing phenominal quantities of works for less funding and to more rapid timescales. These are being demanded by government and industry bodies. Rail is very safe and making strides in technology, practices and efficiencies. Arte there lessons to be learnt from the weekend. Potentially but let's wait to hear the reasons first rather than judge based on speculation. It is categorically wrong to sit and demand compensation or drag Network Rail over the coals everytime anything goes wrong.

Mark Hodgan   07/01/2015 at 15:35

surely the inquiry should be into why the rail service does this so badly after 200 years of practice? HS2 will create more crowds in already overcrowded stations, the UK needs to spread out the load and bypass the area, using cross country lines - a description that shows how London centric the UK is! Too many companies doing shoddy work with no real planning. ALSO = does the UK have a disaster plan for a terror attack or major emergency? Seems not when it can't even manage a routine line repair.

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