Keeping our railways running safely this winter

11 December 2014

ORR chief executive Richard Price explains what the regulator is doing over the winter period to ensure minimal disruptions to passengers.

Keeping our railways running safely this winter

As Britain deals with the impact of 'weather bombs', national attention turns to another one of our favourite topics of discussion: the railways.

Throughout the festive period, ORR will be working to ensure the industry has the right plans in place to keep trains running safely; successfully complete engineering works; and ensure passengers are well informed during any disruption.

Keeping nearly 18,000 trains running daily safely and on time in England and Wales is a big challenge on our rail network, even when we're not being battered by strong winds, rain and snow.

Only last month the independent rail regulator highlighted that too many people are facing too many delays, with around 50,000 more late trains in England and Wales than we'd expected so far this year. It is the biggest source of dissatisfaction with the railways, and the industry needs to tackle the problem. We think that better planning informed by robust data is key to improving performance, and Network Rail has committed to address these issues.

At this time of year, the rail performance challenge is even greater. Again, good planning is crucial – whether that's for making decisions on when services should be scaled-back because of severe weather, or ensuring festive engineering works are completed on time. While a cancelled service is inconvenient, safety has to be at the forefront of the company's thinking. Our team safety inspectors will be working with the industry throughout the festive period to ensure the safe running of services.

Effective communication with passengers is also vital. In recent years, ORR has pushed for the industry to improve standards of passenger information, particularly during disruption. Passengers need the right information to make informed and timely decisions. There has been progress, and parts of the industry have embraced social media as a tool for communication with passengers. However, the industry needs to do more. For example, we think the rail industry should make announcements explaining how passengers can claim refunds if there are significant delays. We are pressing industry to work faster to put proposed improvements into action.

Having the right plans in place is one thing, delivering those plans is quite another. Since 2008, when over-running engineering works were a major problem across the country during the Christmas and New Year period, the rail industry is now working much better together in delivering for passengers at this time of year. I welcome what the industry has done so far to let people know in advance where there will be changes to services so that passengers can plan ahead. It makes a big difference for rail users.

We will be monitoring industry efforts to support further improvements so that disruption is kept to a minimum.