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Network Rail escapes fine for Christmas chaos

Network Rail will not be fined for the travel chaos caused by late running maintenance work over Christmas.

In its official report on the Christmas chaos, the Office of the Rail Regulator says the service provided was “not acceptable” and that Network Rail had breached the terms of its licence.But the ORR said the rail infrastructure operator had accepted the findings of its investigation.

This includes nine recommendations to be addressed before major works take place on the network at the end of this year (see box).

“As a result of [Network Rail’s] acceptance of our recommendations and the work it is already doing to remedy the failings it has identified, we do not consider it appropriate to take further enforcement action,” says the ORR report.

During the Christmas 2014 period, Network Rail carried out engineering work on 300 separate projects across 2,000 work sites, and only 2% of the planned possessions overran.

But late running engineering works caused train cancellations and delays to and from London hub stations Paddington and King’s Cross on Saturday 27 December.

The ORR said that “in the possessions on the lines into King’s Cross and Paddington, we have identified weaknesses in Network Rail’s planning [and] oversight, and in the incident response which followed, which failed to put the impact on passengers at the centre of decision making”.

Its report added: “We are in discussion with Network Rail over its preparation for Easter.

“We expect Network Rail to have implemented all of the recommendations, which will also require work by the train operators, in advance of the Christmas 2015 engineering work.

“We will audit Network Rail in the autumn to satisfy ourselves this is the case.”

Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne said the body accepted it had “let people down” in December.

“Over Christmas, we undertook the biggest programme of engineering and investment work ever, upgrading train lines across the country,” he said.

“The overwhelming majority of this work went to plan but in the case of King’s Cross and Paddington, we accept we got things wrong.

“Our own report has caused us to look again at the work we have planned this year and the contingency plans we have in place, and the ORR’s report underlines the necessity of this work.”

The ORR’s nine recommendations

  1. Network Rail should ensure that for each possession there is an operational contingency plan which is fit for purpose and developed in conjunction with train operators.
  2. In its planning process, Network Rail should ensure it identifies risks of delaying train services as well as handing the possession back on time. This is particularly relevant where train services are planned to operate during infrastructure works as at Paddington.
  3. In planning a possession, Network Rail should ensure the risk assessment process reflects the work being carried out elsewhere on the network.
  4. Network Rail should review the processes it has in place for site reporting including consideration of the arrangements in place for management of contractors.
  5. As part of its planning, Network Rail should make sure there are clear go/no go decision points for the works and go/no go decision points for the implementation of the operational contingency plan.
  6. Network Rail should ensure the processes for communicating up the chain of command and to affected parties will cover the go/no go decision points.
  7. Network Rail and operators should review arrangements for cascading information during an overrun incident to take account of the working arrangements of staff.
  8. Network Rail and operators should consider testing elements of an operational contingency plan at critical locations across the network.
  9. Network Rail and train operators should review arrangements for managing the control of an overrun incident with a command structure covering all elements of the incident including communication, train planning and station management.


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