ORR investigation finds Network Rail in breach of licence in 2014-15

10 August 2015

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) today published its findings and analysis from an investigation into Network Rail's performance delivery to Southern, Govia Thameslink (GTR) and in Scotland in 2014-15, which found that Network Rail breached its licence.

Network Rail's performance in respect of passenger services on Southern, GTR, and in Scotland were below expectations and missed punctuality targets in 2014-15. Southern and GTR combined represented a third of punctuality delays and nearly half of cancelled and significantly delayed services in England and Wales.

ORR's investigation looked into why Network Rail had failed to deliver its performance targets. This included an assessment of whether there were any systemic weaknesses in Network Rail's performance delivery. While there were no systemic weaknesses, ORR's Board took into consideration the repeated past errors by Network Rail on timetabling, lack of liaison with operators and not planning ahead for passengers.

This investigation found that Network Rail did not do everything reasonably practicable to deliver the reliability and punctuality needed to support the train services provided by Southern, GTR and in Scotland. The report identified various issues in Network Rail's development and implementation of timetables in 2014-15.

ORR's analysis showed that for Southern and GTR:

  • There were serious weaknesses in the data which informed the new timetables. For example, a number of the timetable modelling assumptions made were incorrect as they were based on flawed data. 
  • Network Rail was overly optimistic in estimating and assessing the impact of the new timetable on performance. It significantly underestimated the impact of the Thameslink programme on performance, which was further exacerbated by a timetable that was not robust.
  • These issues resulted in very severe disruptions and frustrations for passengers using London Bridge station. The company failed to engage adequately with the train operators to understand what impact the new timetables would have on their passengers and services.

In Scotland, there were numerous errors in the December 2014 timetable caused by a number of factors including a lack of quality assurance and detailed planning. ORR's findings therefore highlight the need for the company to adopt better planning and quality assurance processes before new timetables are implemented.

ORR chief executive Richard Price said:

Our investigation has identified important issues that Network Rail, working with operators, needs to address to improve performance for passengers on these routes. Our analysis shows that the company needs to develop a much better understanding of the impact of timetabling on the reliability of services and on rail users.
These serious issues have caused severe disruption and frustration for passengers, most notably affecting services at and around London Bridge. ORR is therefore imposing a £2m fine on Network Rail – a decision we did not take lightly. The scale of the delays suffered by passengers was central to our decision to fine. The penalty sends a clear message to the Network Rail Board; Network Rail must urgently rectify these errors and deliver the reliability of services that passengers have paid for.

ORR has proposed a £2m financial penalty in relation to Network Rail's impact on GTR and Southern services. Network Rail has the opportunity to offer reparations for affected passengers, instead of having to pay the fine.

For Scotland, while fewer passengers were disrupted and performance has improved recently, this represented the third occasion in recent years in which timetabling issues have caused problems. With further timetable changes on the horizon to facilitate the redevelopment of Queens Street station in Glasgow, ORR will be closely monitoring the steps the company takes to ensure timetable changes are right this time.

ORR also conducted a separate safety investigation into the disruptions at London Bridge which found that while passenger information and pedestrian flow management could have been better, safety of passengers was not compromised.

Notes to editors

  1. The Office of Rail and Road is the independent economic and safety rail regulator and the independent strategic roads monitor for England.
  2. Follow the Office of Rail and Road on Twitter @railregulation for latest news data and announcements on the rail industry and @highwaysmonitor to keep updated on ORR's strategic road monitoring work.
  3. For further information on the investigation and evidence packs, see: https://orr.gov.uk/what-and-how-we-regulate/regulation-of-network-rail/enforcement/enforcement-relating-to-operational-performance
  4. This investigation has found that Network Rail was in past breach of its licence, and among other things that there had been recurring problems with timetable planning. However the company is now taking appropriate actions to address the issues around timetabling.
  5. The penalty is an ORR Board decision, there will now be a 21-day notice period for public representations.
  6. An offer of reparations is an offer from the licence holder to make amends for a breach of licence. Reparations must be genuinely additional (that is over and above what is needed to deliver the service committed to customers), appropriately targeted and proportionate to the harm done and deliverable.
  7. In determining what penalty is appropriate the ORR Board has considered evidence gathered during the investigation, factors which were outside Network Rail's control, mitigating and aggravating factors, its quarterly progress reports against its own performance plans, performance data and correspondence and meetings between our organisations. ORR has also taken into account the views of Network Rail's customers and passenger satisfaction data in carrying out its investigation.
  8. As part of its investigations ORR identified factors which were outside NR's control and meant that it was not reasonably practicable to deliver the performance targets in full in 2014-15 for these operators. As a consequence ORR determined a number of adjustments should be taken into account in its assessment: 
    • Traincrew issues: Southern and GTR have both seen a significant increase in delays from traincrew issues 
    • Glasgow Commonwealth Games: For ScotRail, ORR has taken into account the performance impact of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, which we estimate to be 0.6pp on the end of year punctuality. Both NR and ScotRail acted pragmatically during the Glasgow Commonwealth Games period to ensure the successful movement of passengers rather than prioritising performance. 
    • Externals: ORR also considered that NR was not wholly responsible for the delay minutes and subsequent punctuality loss caused by fatalities and trespass events, and that it has worked constructively to reduce these incidents and mitigate their impact in Scotland, Southern and GTR in 2014-15.
  9. Southern ended 2014-15 with punctuality levels at 83.1% (target was 87.8%), and a Cancelled and Significant Lateness (CaSL) level of 4.8% (target was 2.9%). GTR ended 2014-15 with punctuality levels of 85.2%, well below the 88% target, and a CaSL of 4.3% (3%). Punctuality levels in Scotland were 90.5% against the 92% target. 
  10. To read the full report on ORR's safety investigation at London Bridge see: https://orr.gov.uk/publications/reports/health-and-safety.