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MPs turn heat on Network Rail over Christmas chaos

MPs have branded the Christmas rail chaos as “unacceptable” and called into question Network Rail’s ability to handle its massive upcoming investment programme.

The cross-party Transport Committee laid into the infrastructure operating body over the severe disruption on the rail network in late December.

Thousands of passengers suffered long delays and cancellations when engineering works overran on two key routes out of London on Boxing Day.

Network Rail has apologised for the chaos, and blamed contractor failings in a hastily filed report. But the Transport Committee suggested there were “systemic weaknesses” in the client body’s ability, and warned this could cause further problems as it geared up for control period five (CP5).

“The failure of Network Rail at Christmas, which left thousands of passengers stranded, was unacceptable,” said the MPs’ report.

“The fact that King’s Cross was only one of a number of overrunning engineering works and signalling problems that plagued the rail network over the festive period offers further evidence of systemic weaknesses in Network Rail’s capacity to plan and execute engineering works.

“Given the ambitious investment programme that Network Rail will receive £38bn to deliver by 2019, this is a matter of great concern.

“If Network Rail is to maintain and improve the rail network in CP5 it will require managing multiple, complex engineering projects simultaneously. Network Rail must demonstrate how it will learn from the mistakes it has made in its engineering works and maintain a decent service to passengers while enhancement work is carried out.”

The report added: “The ORR should consider whether the disruption over Christmas and the New Year suggests that Network Rail is unable to deliver the enhancements programme planned for CP5, alongside a safety-focused, high-performing railway each and every day.”

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