Network Rail required to clear structure examinations backlog

ORR demand Network Rail to clear its backlog on structure examinations after disappointing progress since 2021

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has written to Network Rail expressing their concerns over the backlog of track and structure inspections the organisation currently has.

ORR has been monitoring Network Rail’s progress on the backlog of structure examinations since 2021 but has not been satisfied with the limited progress that has been made in clearing the backlog with some areas seeing their backlog increase.

John Larkinson, ORR chief executive said: "There are over 70,000 structures on the rail network, so we understand the scale of the job of inspecting these assets.

“Equally, we know this requires clear, robust and systematic examination plans but previous attempts to get on top of the backlog of work have failed.

Network Rail has accepted the need to do better and it must now deliver against the agreed workplan to clear the backlog."

If examination processes are not followed, faults could go undetected or not fully assessed meaning safety risks increase and inevitably slow down the network.

ORR did acknowledge in the letter that Network Rail had displayed good practice in certain areas however not enough had been done to mitigate the issues.

The backlog in the structure examinations could mean that Network Rail will not comply with their own new standards for structure examinations which is intended by September 2023.

In light of their concerns, Network Rail has held discussions with ORR and have agreed to provide ORR with robust plans to achieve the compliance with a comprehensive plan produced by the company by the end of August 2023.

Martin Frobisher, Network Rail’s safety and engineering director, said:

"Since the ORR first raised this matter in 2021 we have been developing and enacting recovery measures to ensure structures examinations are up to date.

"Between February and April 2023 there has been a 9% improvement in examination non-compliance. We recognise there is still work to be done to build on these improvements and we are liaising closely with the ORR to get back on track. A plan will be submitted to the ORR by the end of June.” 

ORR will continue monitoring Network Rail’s delivery of its plans and will assess progress against its plans at the end of the current Control Period 6 (ending April 2024).

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