Rail passengers facing 'unnecessary delays'

Network Rail sign Poor drainage from tracks can cause mudslides and signal problems that delay trains

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Train passengers are facing unnecessary delays because Network Rail is not doing its job properly, according to a critical report from the regulator.

The Office of Rail Regulation said the infrastructure company was slipping behind on maintenance and had not done enough to prepare for bad weather.

It comes as commuters face more above-inflation fare rises in the new year.

Network Rail said train performance was still at historically high levels but accepted it could improve.

Punctuality targets

Rail Minister Norman Baker told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that while Network Rail was "delivering upgrades and new infrastructure well", it had taken its "eye off the ball" when it comes to day-to-day maintenance of the network

Mr Baker discussed the report when he met Network Rail's boss on Wednesday and company representatives on Thursday.

Network Rail is in charge of the transport system's infrastructure including tracks and signals.

Drainage is a major issue on the railways because heavy rain can cause havoc, triggering mudslides and signal problems that delay trains.

The report from the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) said Network Rail was not doing enough to drain water away from tracks, which would help more services run on time.

The rail regulator also talked about a backlog of maintenance.

The ORR claimed the company did not know enough about the condition of its own track, bridges and signals.

As a result key punctuality targets were being missed, it said, which could soon land Network Rail with a multi-million pound fine.

ORR chief executive Richard Price said the company must deal with these problems as a matter of urgency.

'Investing heavily'

"Network Rail has been entrusted with large amounts of public and passengers' money which, if invested well, should deliver the levels of efficiency and punctuality it promised to deliver," he said.

"However, the company is falling short of expectations at the moment. It is facing many problems of its own making having failed to deliver plans to renew Britain's rail network, with delayed works now affecting performance.

"The company must urgently catch up and address the problems which are causing disruption to passengers and target its work as efficiently as possible."

The report examined what Network Rail delivered from the money it spent, as passengers face fare increases of about 4.1% in the coming months.

Mr Baker said he raised his concerns with Network Rail chief executive Sir David Higgins when they met earlier this week.

The minister said: "I am, as I think the rest of the travelling public will be, dismayed to learn that Network Rail is still failing to tackle deterioration in the punctuality and reliability of the network - a matter I have regularly raised with them.

"Fare payers and tax payers are investing heavily in the future of the railways and they need to have the confidence that Network Rail is maximising the impact every pound has."

Mr Baker later told the Today programme that "because you've got twice the number of passengers over the last 15 years on the same network, inevitably that's putting enormous pressure on Network Rail."

He said it is "one of the reasons" infrastructure projects like HS2 are needed.

Last week it was announced that former oil executive Mark Carne would replace Sir David at Network Rail when he steps down next year.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Network rail have been reducing man power and time for preventive maintainance for years. They will only do things if, there is an accident happens and they have been caught out. to up keep the Railways inspections and monitoring needs to be to avoid breakdown of the system. That means man power and cost..

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Wea are told of "unnecessary" delays, but what is a "necessary" delay?

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    I remember plenty moaning when British Rail was in state hands, with people saying privatise etc. Those minnies got their wish; now look at the railways. If anyone still thinks that privatisation, competition etc necessarily leads to more efficiency, they only have to leaf through this report. Railways are a big unwieldy system, which needs central direction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    To ovalball 37.

    George Osbourne is not a fool. He knows exactly how to take money from the poor to make the well off even more well off and he repeats the mantra 'privatisation increases competition and delivers better services'. He knows that is not true but he needs to say it to bring about his and the Conservative Pary's primary function of moving money from the poor to the rich shareholders.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    In the country that gave the world the train, it's amazingly sad that in nearly 200 years we still have not found the right people to place the infrastructure down for the trains to fulfil their true potential. What a waste of an invention.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Mr Baker, Network Rail do not set the private operators fare prices as they are only responsible for the track. This criticism smells like a pr public softening up attempt to contract out track maintenance to a private operator which was a disaster under Railtrack.

    Funny how ministers can find £80billion for HS2 but expect current tracks to improve and maintain themselves at no extra cost

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Great, so not only will you not get a seat, you'll have to hang about waiting on a freezing cold platform.

    Welcome to the new Victorian era.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    re 44. In your implied criticism of Railtrack, you conveniently forgot to mention that RailTrack in 1998 presided over one of only two years in the whole century in which there was no fatal accident. And you have also conveniently forgotten the fatal accidents at Grayrigg and Tebay, both on Network Rail's watch.
    Airline safety shows private ownership and safe working are not mutually exclusive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    One question. Why is it the Japanese can run a rail system but we cannot?

    Japanese trains run regularly, in numbers and punctually. Never known engineering work being carried on during operation hours. Mind you, they are radical enough to do roadworks at night (Japanese business would not tolerate loss of income if road works went on during daytime).

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Lack of capacity is part of the problem. I catch the 17:09 from Didcot to Oxford, a 125 from London. The 17:15 to Great Malvern via Oxford starts at Didcot. If the 17:09 is delayed, as it often is, the 17:15 is held up too. Why? Because travellers from London might need to change onto the GM train at Oxford, so the 125 has to get there first. Knock-on delays must be happening all over the place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Network Rail is a not for profit company owned by the Government - it is already a NATIONALISED company so how do you square that with all you people demanding we nationalise them?

    This is one government department criticising another, hardly a groundbreaking news story!

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    @35 "As for the ORR what exactly does this expensive chocolate poker do apart from issuing reports stating the obvious."

    Now, now. I will not put up with you insulting chocolate pokers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    The whole rail network should be nationalised immediately. I remember being able to take a seat on a train for a long journey - the trains had many carriages. Then privatisation and shorter trains with people even standing on long haul journeys - it is a disgrace. I no longer have to rely on trains but my later experiences of travelling in the SE were a nightmare. Luckily I moved away. Good luck

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    If ever there was an argument for proper, controlled and monitored nationalisation, this is it. The fact that our national rail system comprises a strange mix of private and public ownership demonstrates perfectly the lack of "the buck stops here" responsibility. We need a seamless and efficient rail system which, amongst other things will integrate with Royal Mail and bus/tram services.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Except for intensive commuter routes trains are yesterday's transport. We should be instrumenting the motorways for auto-driving vehicles instead. Jams and accidents would be reduced yielding greater capacity, travellers could get work done in comfort, we'd save a fortune on energy consumption and policing and it would create proper high-tech employment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    #4.politicsofenvy. Not sure if you are being sarcastic but how is HS2 going to solve the problems say in the south east?
    I was being sarcastic. HS2 will not cure anything. It will not bring increased capacity to anywhere on the rail network where it is actually needed. The government is syphoning off subsidy from railway maintenance to create the funding for HS2.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Privately owned or not, breaking the railway into competing and buck passing parts was never going to work properly and never will. Other countries have successfully privatised railways by making the private company responsible for everything on their line - trains, track, signalling and stations. No buck passing there. The UK mantra of competition improves everything is nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Royal Mail privatisation? Look at Network Rail for the pefect model ha ha

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Gosh, some people are very ill-informed. How often does it need to be said? Network Rail is NOT a private company, it does NOT have 'foreign shareholders'.It IS already nationalised in all but name

    But I grant you, it does have a jobs for the boys culture, where 'private sector' salaries 'to attract the best' are doled out to people who unlike the private sector do not have to generate income

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Re. the public/private debate when we had Railtrack we had Southall, Ladbroke Grove and Potters Bar. Now under Network Rail we have poor punctuality and cost and time overruns on network upgrade work. Give me Network Rail any day of the week. I'd rather get there late with all my limbs intact, frankly.


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