Office of Rail and Road Update - December 2019

Welcome to our December newsletter.

As we come to the end of 2019, we can reflect on a busy year across rail and road.

ORR exists to protect the interests of current and future rail and road users, acting in the public interest. We oversee the safety, value and performance of the railways and monitor the performance and efficiency of England’s strategic road network. This edition of our newsletter looks back at some of ORR’s key activities over the last twelve months.

2020 is set to be a major year for rail and road, with the outcome of the Williams Review on the future of the railway and, in England, the Department for Transport’s 2020-25 Road Investment Strategy for Highways England. We look forward to working with stakeholders to help support the best outcomes for users and taxpayers following both of these.

All the best for the festive season and the New Year.

John Larkinson
Chief Executive

Top stories

Driving cost-efficiency, performance and competition

In preparation for Network Rail’s new control period (CP6), we changed our internal processes and bolstered our teams focused on holding the company to account. Building on lessons from CP5, our approach now more clearly prioritises taking early action where this will benefit railway users. It also better reflects Network Rail’s structure and public sector status, for example, providing for us to apply financial penalties to management bonuses (for example at regional level) rather than imposing fines that reduce Network Rail’s overall funding.

Further to the work we began in spring 2018, we have continued to closely scrutinise Network Rail’s preparations to deliver its committed renewals and efficiencies in CP6. This has led to important improvements in its plans for 2020-21, but as set out in our recent letter to the company, it needs to maintain an unrelenting focus on this for the step up in efficiency it needs to deliver in later years of the control period.

Following the provisional order we issued against Network Rail in November 2018 for deficiencies in how it manages performance, we have been monitoring the company’s progress against the improvements it committed to in its February 2019 response. We will provide an update on this in January 2020.

For High Speed 1, in September we issued our draft determination on the 2019 periodic review of its access charges. Our role here is to provide assurance that HS1’s assets can be kept in good condition over the long term at the lowest possible cost.  We are currently finalising our final determination, which we will publish on 7 January 2020.

In relation to roads, we published our annual assessment of Highways England, setting out our view of its progress against its commitments for 2015-20, and provided advice to the Department for Transport to inform its work on the next Road Investment Strategy (RIS2).

We also carried out work under our competition powers, recommending moves to open markets in the supply of automatic ticket gates and ticket vending machines and concluded our market review into third party intermediaries in rail compensation.

Protecting users’ interests

In July, we issued new guidance to train and station operators on the service that they must provide to those who need assistance when they travel. This set out important improvements to enable older and disabled people to be able to travel by rail with greater confidence.

We also submitted recommendations to the UK Government’s Williams Review on wider reforms to improve accessibility on the rail network and to improve arrangements regarding compensation for passengers.

We issued new types of data on delay compensation and punctuality to help the industry provide a better service to passengers. We also fined GTR in respect of its poor performance in providing information to passengers during disruption during 2018.

Finally, we strongly supported the establishment of the new Rail Ombudsman pushing for all train operating companies to sign up to it.

Working to promote health and safety

Throughout the year, we continued our focus on health and safety. In July, we highlighted the challenges for the industry, including managing increased pressure on the system arising from disruption and more trains on the network, and the need for the railway to do all it can to support its people, who are often the final line of defence in preventing major failures.

While a key element of our approach remains to support the rail industry to understand and manage its risks, we continue to take enforcement action where appropriate. Most recently, we issued a fine relating to a fall from height at work.

Finally, this year we have put renewed focus on the health of everyone working on or around the railway. We are supporting Samaritans’ Million Hours Challenge, and published our Closing the Gap report on mental risk management in the industry.