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Asset management is vital to improving the performance of Britain’s railways

Network Rail, in April, embarked on a new five-year plan with challenging targets to deliver a safer, higher performing and more efficient railway by 2019.

We, at the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), working with industry, further developed this plan to include a £2bn saving on the day-to-day running costs of the rail network; closure of over 500 high-risk level crossings across UK; nine out of 10 trains running on time for all regional, London and South East, and Scottish routes; £12bn of enhancements to the network; and significantly improved asset management.

Over the next few years, the ORR will focus on supporting Network Rail to deliver a more resilient rail network. We will closely monitor Network Rail’s progress on how it manages, maintains and renews the railways through additional checks as asset failures have an adverse impact on safety, performance and efficiency. For example, nearly 30% of all delays that passengers suffer are caused by problems with network infrastructure – not just track, but also bridges, earthworks and other structures. Any of these assets can cause delays when they fail, with the potential for costly knock-on effects across the network.

Our analysis shows that Network Rail’s progress on performance in past five years has been hindered by inadequate knowledge of the condition of some of its assets such as drainage and embankments. This is why we are setting Network Rail new enforceable and measurable targets, specific to asset knowledge and data quality.

If Network Rail is to succeed in realising its new punctuality targets for 2019, it is vital that it gets to grips with not only improving operational planning and timetables, but also managing its assets effectively, including planning and delivering appropriate maintenance and renewal works. We believe Network Rail needs to move on from a “find and fix” – costly and service disrupting approach to maintenance and renewals of assets on the network – to a “predict and prevent” approach which will enhance performance, safety and efficiency.  This requires not only a detailed understanding of what assets are present but also their condition and the modes by which they can fail, such that the right pre-cursors can be monitored. This will help predict future failures of equipment like points.

The ORR is adopting a new approach to monitoring and supporting delivery of the five-year plan. We will assess Network Rail’s performance against 58 regulated targets to cover all areas of performance between 2014 and 2019. Network Rail will also have to be more transparent than ever before – publishing information on key aspects of asset management – including volumes of work taking place and the condition of assets such as track, bridges, buildings, earthworks, signalling and telecoms equipment.

Network Rail has made great strides over the past decade in improving safety, performance and efficiency on Britain’s railways. We fully expect it to build on past successes, and beat the challenges we have set.

  • Alan Price is director – planning and performance at the Office of Rail Regulation

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