Network Rail has been fined £2million by the government’s rail regulator for poor performance on the Brighton mainline, London Bridge and Scotland.
The Office of Rail and Road issued the fine for breaching its licence over timetable data and design, particularly when assessing the impact of the Thameslink programme.
However, while Network Rail accepts its performance was not up to scratch, it said the fine would take money out of the railways at a time when it is investing £11m in Southern/GTR routes, particularly the Brighton main line and London Bridge routes.
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’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.
Phil Hufton, managing director, network operations, Network Rail, said: “At the start of this year we had a number of problems that caused passengers disruption and frustration and we apologise for this. Since then we have proactively invested over £11m to improve performance for Southern and Thameslink passengers.
“This investment, which has seen the introduction of a revised timetable, improved equipment, the deployment of rapid-response maintenance teams at London Bridge as well as new information screens and better passenger information, is paying dividends and passenger service reliability has now improved by almost 12% since January.
“While the nuts and bolts of our infrastructure are the most reliable they’ve even been, severe congestion caused by record numbers of trains and passengers makes delivering a consistently reliable service a daily challenge for ourselves and the train operators.
“At London Bridge we are undertaking the biggest and most complex station and track redevelopment ever attempted on Britain’s railways – while simultaneously continuing to keep services running.
“As we are now a public sector organisation, the fine must come from within our existing budget, and will mean a reallocation of existing resources to pay it.”
Hove MP Peter Kyle, who took part in a House of Commons debate on poor performance on the Southern routes, said: “Yet again this shows the extent of the poor performance on the Brighton main line.
“It is now for the rail minister to ensure her much heralded joint improvement plan actually delivers the benefits that passengers across the city are crying out for.”
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