Network Rail investigated for poor performance in northern England

Simon Calder
Network Rail is being investigated by the ORR for poor performance in northern England: Getty Images

Network Rail is still responsible for a large majority of train delays in Britain – and has performed so badly in central and northwest England that the rail watchdog has put it “on warning”.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) is responsible for holding the government-run infrastructure provider to account.

Its latest figures show Network Rail was responsible for 58 per cent of “delay minutes” during 2019.

This figure was down 1.1 per cent compared with the previous year.

But the rail watchdog said that in the region where Northern and TransPennine Express run many trains: “Network Rail’s performance in terms of its contribution to delays remains a concern.

“Performance in this region deteriorated in 2018 and failed to substantially recover during 2019.”

The ORR is now investigating “whether Network Rail is doing all it reasonably can to improve service for passengers”.

The chief executive, John Larkinson, said: “The top priority for passengers is that their train arrives on time and that isn’t happening consistently enough across the country.

“While there are areas of very good performance such as in Wales and Western region, Network Rail’s performance in North West and Central region is not good enough. That is why we are putting the company on a warning to make sure its improvement plans deliver for passengers.”

The ORR also found that the recent poor performance of TransPennine Express was “largely the result of train operations” rather than infrastructure shortcomings. It has written to the train operators demanding “further information on how it is meeting its obligations to communicate information on service disruption”.

In Scotland, the number of delay minutes attributed to Network Rail fell by 24 per cent.

“However, despite this, it remains well below its punctuality targets for both ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper,” the ORR said.

“We expect Network Rail to build on work to date and continue to learn lessons and identify opportunities to deliver further improvements and ensure the provision of a reliable service for passengers in Scotland.”

Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail, said: “For too many months, passengers – particularly in the Midlands and the North – have been coping with very poor train services.

“It simply isn’t good enough and on behalf of the rail industry, I’d like to apologise. We have let you down.”

“There is no ‘quick-fix’, but fix it we will and a cross industry task force has been pulled together to tackle the problems head-on.

“I want them to cut through the red tape and deliver solutions quickly that will bring improvements for passengers in the near future. It will need more reliable assets, a much more reliable train plan and more robust operator resource plans.”

“In other parts of the country we have seen good progress. Our infrastructure is performing well with reliability in a lot of places at record high levels. But recovering from any small incident or issue, be that a fallen tree, a broken down train or track fault, on a congested and clogged network, remains our biggest challenge.”

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