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ORR slams Network Rail over ‘systemic failings’ of May timetables, recovery plan due in August

The rail regulator has scolded Network Rail for its mismanagement of the chaotic new timetables that left many commuters stranded from 20 May.

In a report released after a thorough investigation, the ORR demanded that Network Rail take four immediate actions to improve passenger services following shortcomings in the organisation’s general management of the timetable changes.

The management of the new timetables, which caused £38m in lost hours and productivity from commuters in the north as well as widespread disruptions in the south, was blasted once again by Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham in a scathing letter to Theresa May today.

Burnham noted that a promise by Chris Grayling to end the chaos on the Northern rail system has “failed to bring any meaningful action” to turn things around.

The first of the four improvement actions the ORR called upon was for Network Rail to provide a report to the regulator by 31 August demonstrating how it is running an efficient, fair, effective, and transparent process in revising upcoming timetables.

“An immediate priority is the successful delivery of the December 2018 timetable, which is reliant on an effective and transparent process,” the report said.

The revision of the 2018 December timetables means it will take longer to recover normal timescales for notifying changes to the timetable— so the ORR stated that Network Rail must revise its recovery plan by 31 August to get timetables back to being agreed 12 weeks in advance. It must also publicly report on progress, including details and explanations of any late notice changes being considered.

The third and fourth objectives include the strengthening of timetabling and capability resources— first draft due to the ORR by 17 September— and better coordination between the sector of Network Rail carrying out the work (Infrastructure Projects) and its timetabling function (System Operator).

The report wrote: “Our investigation has also concluded that there are issues with the planning, management and delivery of Network Rail’s Infrastructure Projects function and its interface with the System Operator timetabling function, and the routes. It is clear that decisions are not being taken with a whole system perspective in mind.”

John Larkinson, ORR’s director of railway markets and economics, argued that Network Rail’s failings up to the May timetable led to “massive disruption, uncertainty and inconvenience to passengers.”

He added: "Network Rail has acted to bring the industry together to address timetabling issues but more and faster change is needed to provide assurance to passengers. That is why we have set out these actions designed to improve capability within Network Rail.

"Our ongoing broader inquiry is looking at the role of the whole industry in the May timetabling problems and this may lead to further recommendations."

A Network Rail spokeswoman said: "The national rail timetable is a long-term timetable that changes twice a year. Network Rail’s role is one of co-ordination and deconfliction. The timetables themselves are the creation of operators up and down the country be they freight or passenger. Network Rail then manages this hugely complex industry process, twice a year, for new base timetables to be published in May and December.

"The recent painful issues around the May timetable have seen various causes at play, some of which have originated at Network Rail’s door but this is an industry wide issue and we are all working closely together to resolve the continuing, but lessening impacts of hundreds of new services and routes being introduced across the country."

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Image credit: Chalabala, iStock images


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