£140m rail plan to tackle Elizabeth line and Great Western problems

<span>Passengers on an Elizabeth line train at standstill.</span><span>Photograph: Alan Hamilton/PA Media</span>
Passengers on an Elizabeth line train at standstill.Photograph: Alan Hamilton/PA Media

Network Rail has promised to restore the railway outside London Paddington to proper order in the next 18 months, with a £140m plan to end the problems plaguing the Elizabeth line and Great Western services.

More than 1,000 actions have been identified to address and pre-empt defects on 53 miles of track, after continuing delays totalling more than 200 hours a week on average to trains in the Thames Valley area.

The plans were announced after talks with the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, Transport for London (TfL) and the Elizabeth line operator MTR over problems that have blighted trains to Heathrow and Reading.

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Reliability on the route has deteriorated since mid-2023, affecting Great Western Railway (GWR) and Heathrow Express services as well as the Elizabeth line, with track defects, overhead lines and trespassing all contributing to disruption.

Network Rail’s Western route director, Marcus Jones, admitted that it had been “letting people down” but added that now “we’ve got a plan and we’re confident” of restoring the railway to good performance by late 2025.

Actions to be taken include more regular inspections, fitting devices to parts of the infrastructure to identify problems earlier and renewing some sections of overhead wires.

Khan, who chairs TfL, said: “The Elizabeth line has been transformational, seeing well over 4.5m journeys every week, but it’s clear that the recent performance on the Elizabeth line has been below the high standards set when the railway was opened.

“I have been absolutely clear with Network Rail, MTR and TfL that the issues we have seen over the last six months are not acceptable.

“I am pleased that they have brought forward a comprehensive plan to resolve the problems on the line, and I will continue to hold them to account.”

In one of the most high-profile incidents, thousands of passengers – including the Network Rail chief executive, Andrew Haines – were stranded on trains for several hours on 7 December because of a problem with overhead wires. Passengers on Elizabeth line trains were trapped without power or toilets.

Four damaged rails were discovered within eight days in November.

Services were disrupted again on Monday because of a landslip in Sonning, Berkshire.

The Maidenhead MP and former prime minister, Theresa May, who is a member of GWR’s independent advisory board, recently told the Commons of a period when rail disruption affected trains on eight out of nine days, blaming “the way that Network Rail is behaving at the moment and how it has been dealing with the track and overhead lines”.

Jones told the PA Media news agency: “We haven’t been performing well enough and we are sorry for that.” He said there was a “perfect storm” of maintenance work delays combined with more and longer trains putting more strain on infrastructure.

The rail regulator, the Office of Rail and Road, is conducting an investigation into Network Rail’s performance on the Western route.