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Network Rail could miss performance targets, says regulator

Network Rail is in danger of missing its regulatory targets on train reliability, opening up the possibility that it will be fined for its performance, the rail regulator said yesterday,

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) said that for the month from 17 October, Network Rail “substantially missed its own targets” for both delay minutes and cancellations and significant lateness, the measure of how many trains are either cancelled or arrive more than 30 minutes late.

Publishing its quarterly Network Rail monitor, the ORR said that there is now “a material risk” that Network Rail may not meet the 2010/2011 performance requirements for these measures. The targets state there should be no more than 4.5% of long distance services affected by significant lateness delays, 2.5% of regional services and 2.2% of services in London and the South East. The number of minutes of delay to rail services which is attributed to Network Rail must not exceed 6.2M across Great Britain in 2010-11.

The regulator said it has asked Network Rail what its plans are get these measures back on track, as the monitor states that delay minutes to passenger services has continued to rise gradually since October, despite the generally benign weather conditions for the period.

The biggest individual causes of delays are fatalities and trespass incidents, and vandalism and theft. However, the ORR report notes that, of those causes within Network Rail’s control, track faults and train planning errors have increased. In the year to date, delays due to track faults are 3.4% up on last year.

ORR director of access, planning and performance Michael Lee said that the regulator is concerned about the minutes of delay, whether due to failure of the assets or to external factors, which include weather. These targets are part of Network Rail’s licence, he said, and “if they were to fail to meet these targets then it is potentially an enforcement matter”, including fines. There is a provision made within the targets for the impact of bad weather, he added, and Network Rail has to cope with that.

The ORR report also expressed concerns about the planned upgrade of the lines between London Marylebone and Birmingham Snow Hill stations, which is being undertaken by Chiltern Railways as part of its Evergreen 3 programme. The first phase of this scheme plans to raise the line speeds from Princes Risborough to Bicester and Banbury, by removing bottlenecks and straightening the track, reducing journey times by around 20 minutes.

The project is planned to be completed by May 2011. However the ORR, which must approve the financial arrangements of the project, has said that “several problems” have been found with the project’s plans, and that they are now being revised. Consultant Halcrow has been asked to review a revised plan before a final decision on the phasing of funding of the project is taken, likely to be later this month.

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