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Contractor paperwork delays behind Christmas rail chaos, says report

Thousands of passengers faced train cancellations and delays over Christmas because a Balfour Beatty/Alstom joint venture took five times as long as expected to carry out tests and fill out paperwork, an official report has found.

The study, by Network Rail infrastructure projects director Francis Paonessa, said Signalling Solutions took almost 10 hours to complete a phase of work expected to last for two hours.

Paonessa said the contractor reported testing of signalling changes at Old Oak Common depot complete at 3:30am on Saturday 27 December – and that services were on course to begin as scheduled at 7am.

However, according to the report, inconsistencies in the paperwork then needed to be resolved and physical testing work needed to be redone or rechecked. As passengers were forced to use alternative routes, paperwork continued to be grappled with long beyond the agreed handover point, the report found, and it was after 1pm when the lines were fully operational.

The report concluded: “Signalling Solutions is a key supplier to Network Rail on a number of contracts, so its work management processes that led to the incorrect conclusion that the signalling testing of the main lines was complete will be thoroughly reviewed by Signalling Solutions and Network Rail staff.

“Consideration will [also] be given to providing additional contingency time for the validation process where major signalling works or multi-disciplined works are being undertaken.”

A series of faults in equipment, contingency planning and incident management were identified by the report, ordered by Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne after delays at Paddington and King’s Cross shortly after Christmas.

Carne said: “The report describes a number of improvements that must be made. I would highlight three that deserve special prominence:

  • Improve the effectiveness of our project and operational contingency plans so that we put minimising passenger disruption at the very heart of our planning
  • Improve our management of the performance of critical contractors and, in the case of one specific contractor, do a better job of working with them to improve their signalling commissioning process
  • Work with industry colleagues to improve service recovery and to provide better information to passengers.”

Signalling Solutions said it “welcomed” the report.

“We are continuing to work with Network Rail to consider how we can avoid similar issues arising in future,” it said in a statement.

“The main issue at Paddington related to vital safety checks being carried out on the signalling systems that ran late for a number of reasons.

“We obviously apologise to everyone affected by the delay but would stress that the safety and well-being of passengers was our paramount consideration at all times.”

Readers' comments (1)

  • As I said before, if there is an overrun what do we do?(other than wring our hands).

    What stations/tracks are available
    What rescheduling is possible?
    How can the passengers be informed and directed to the alternative services?
    If this wasn't done, one despairs of the organisations involved!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

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