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Ineffective regulation of Network Rail the main cause of inefficiency, says Commons committee

Ineffective regulation of Network Rail is the main cause of inefficiency in the operation of Britain’s railways, the influential House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has warned.

Committee chairman Margaret Hodge said the relationship between Network Rail, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) and their advisors was “too cosy” with a number of firms hired by the regulator often also providing advice to Network Rail as well.

PAC has investigated the relationship between Network Rail and the ORR in the wake of the McNulty rail review which found that Britain’s railways cost up to 40% more to run than in Europe.

It found that a key issue was the rail regulator’s lack of power to impose effective sanctions on Network Rail.

“We doubt whether the ORR can put effective pressure on Network Rail to improve its performance. Fines simply reduce the amount of investment in the railways,” said Hodge.

“Britain needs a regulator with teeth, who can ensure proper value for money for both the taxpayer and fare-payer,” she said.

Speaking at NCE’s London Rail conference late last month, Network Rail director of planning and regulation Charles Robarts admitted that it did need to become more efficient and said benchmarking of its performance was crucial.

Robarts told the conference that Network Rail was eager to bring in a concessionaire to operate one of its route allow it to benchmark costs.

“We know we are too expensive,” said Robarts. “We are a monopoly so it is difficult to benchmark. Forming a concession is the idea, and we have ideas where that might be,” he said.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Barry Walton

    I have just returned from Paris to London having completed a 202 mile cycle through southern England, down the well heeled Avenue Verte, over some glorious French country roads and traversing a motorway excavation - fortunately closed down on the morning of Bastille Day. There were some striking things about the journey back. Gare du Nord looked run down and the Eurostar locos were externally filthy while St Pancras basked in all its expensive glory. The track was bumpy through France and mainly overground while HS2 seems to be a series of connected bridges and tunnels - an obvious reason why that piece of infrastructure might have had a much higher unit cost than a corridor on the continental. It might be that it was too expensive but it would be useful if, as it appears the parochial Mr Robards cannot get his head round benchmarking when there is a vast array of railway work going on in the world, the regulator or ICE carried out some research to identify where cost differences lie. In the water and sewerage sector, OFWAT compares or compared services from outside England and Wales.

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