Office of Rail and Road investigating Network Rail for poor performance in North West & Central England

21 January 2020

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has today published its update on Network Rail’s impact on passenger train service performance and has put the company on a warning for its poor service in the North West and Central region in England.

ORR has seen that at a national level Network Rail’s contribution to passenger train delay minutes was 58%, down 1.1 percentage points compared with the previous year; however, there are variations across the country.

In the North West and Central region where the train operating companies include Northern and Trans Pennine Express, 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. As a result, ORR is investigating the detail of Network Rail’s recently initiated recovery plan further and monitoring its impact to test whether Network Rail is doing all it reasonably can to improve service for passengers.

Conversely, in the Wales and Western region where train operating companies include Great Western Railway and Transport for Wales, Network Rail has delivered its best performance of the last five years.

In Scotland, ORR is seeing a number of improvements with a 24% reduction in passenger train delay minutes attributed to Network Rail. However, despite this, it remains well below its punctuality targets for both ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper.

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.

John Larkinson, Chief Executive, Office of Rail and Road said: "The top priority for passengers is that their train arrives on time and that isn’t happening consistently enough across the country.

"ORR is responsible for looking at how Network Rail contributes to train delays and 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."

ORR also looked at the cause of the recent poor performance of Trans Pennine Express (TPE) and found it has been largely the result of train operations. While ORR’s role in holding the train operators to account is limited, it has written to TPE requiring further information on how it is meeting its obligations to communicate information on service disruption.

Notes to editors

  1. Network Rail's train service performance and data pack
    In Great Britain, the cause for delays to trains is split roughly 50/50 between train companies and Network Rail. The delays which Network Rail is responsible for (under the 1993 Railways Act) also include external factors, such as fatalities, trespass, vandalism and extreme weather, which account for roughly a third of delays. ORR is responsible for holding Network Rail to account and overseeing that it is doing all that it reasonably can to minimise delays.
  2. ORR’s approach to holding Network Rail to account: ORR has introduced a change to its regulation of Network Rail for the current control period which runs from 1 April 2019 – 2024. A holding Network Rail to Account Policy was introduced in March 2019.  ORR are moving to stage 2 (investigation and early resolution) of our Holding Network to Account Policy in relation to Network Rail’s performance in the North West & Central region.
  • Stage 1: Routine monitoring and assessment of Network Rail’s performance.

    Drawing on a range of new data sources, we compare and contrast performance across local routes/regions, including highlighting good practice that can then be shared across the whole network.

    Our Holding Network Rail to Account Policy places particular emphasis on assessing the strength of Network Rail’s stakeholder engagement and collaborative working across its business.
  • Stage 2: Investigation and early resolution of concerns to protect rail users. We take a risk-based and staged approach to investigation. The actions we could decide to take vary, depending on the nature, severity and urgency of the issue, the ability of stakeholders to intervene and Network Rail’s response to the issue.

    ORR steps in earlier where necessary to protect rail users, and can consider: gathering in-depth information, using independent reporters; holding ORR Hearings and/or requiring Network Rail to put in place formal improvement plans in this stage.
  • Stage 3: Enforcement – If Network Rail is unable to resolve issues, we may then take enforcement action. Our Holding Network Rail to Account policy has an option to impose financial sanctions on routes (or the system operator) that can affect Network Rail management bonuses.

    The policy also includes a new approach to financial penalties (fines) that allows ORR to scale penalties so as to be capable of being funded by management bonuses.

    Both approaches avoid diverting funding from the operational railway while making a difference where it matters to management.