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Rail regulator highlights “significant weaknesses” at Network Rail

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) has highlighted a range of concerns over Network Rail’s performance in its review of the organisation for 2009/2010, unveiled yesterday.

The company failed to demonstrate sustainable asset management, particularly with regard to structures, and was also unable to demonstrate that it had achieved any efficiency savings in the 12 months to 31 March.

But the ORR said good progress had been made on passenger safety, customer satisfaction and Network Rail’s response to crisis such as the November floods.

“Our view is that Network Rail’s performance was mixed,” said ORR chief executive Bill Emery at the release of the Network Rail annual assessment. “We are pleased to report record positive developments across a range of activities, however these gains must be offset by significant weaknesses,” he said.

Emery pointed to a lack of competence in terms of asset management. “The structures policy is cause for concern as it fails the sustainability test. You remain unable to apply whole life cost analysis,” he said.

Asset reliability, however, improved despite the effects of the severe winter. A total of 3,263 failures were reported in England and Wales compared to 3,859 in the previous 12 months, a decline of 16%. In Scotland failures were down 23% to 346 from 450.

This was credited by the regulator as reducing delays. Network Rail said it was the most punctual year since records began in 1992.

“Passengers are today experiencing the most punctual train service ever provided on Britain’s railways,” said Network Rail director of operations and customer services Robin Gisby. “This has been accomplished through the sheer hard work and determination of tens of thousands of rail staff across the country working for both Network Rail and the train operators.”

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