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Rail regulator questions Network Rail's climate change resilience commitment

Network Rail must improve the resilience of Britain’s railways in adverse weather conditions such as snow and heavy rain the rail regulator said this week.

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Flooding: Hazard facing rail network

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) has ordered Network Rail to explain how it will improve its performance after snow and flooding caused it to miss punctuality targets in the last quarter.

Punctuality on long distance services for the quarter ending 5 January was 88.3% while 91.4% of services in London and the South East were on time. This was well adrift of targets of 92% and 93%respectively.

“We have concerns about Network Rail’s resilience in dealing with recent weather conditions and are raising this urgently,” says the regulator’s quarterly monitoring report.

Network Rail chief executive David Higgins responded by stating that the recent extreme weather had been a “wake up call”, “which we ignore at our peril”.

But he said the problem was exacerbated by “decades of under investment”. He said this explained last month’s request to be allowed to spend £300M specifically
on climate change resilience in its next five year spending period (NCE 10 January).

The regulator is scrutinising Network Rail’s Strategic Business Plan for the railways from 2014-2019 and will give its initial response in June ahead of a final determination in October.

“The damage that extreme weather can do to a Victorian rail network which was neither designed nor built for such challenges is clear,” said Higgins, adding that on the worst affected parts of the network, torrential rain caused up to 60 landslides in a single day.

“Nowhere is this more apparent than with the embankments, cuttings, bridges, tunnels and other structures which have struggled to cope with extreme weather, alongside the burden of carrying more passengers than they were designed for,” he said.

“Our submission to our regulator for the next five year funding settlement reflects our plan to tackle this.”

The regulator’s concerns do not end with extreme weather resilience, however. It warned that there were other factors affecting performance such as some significant engineering overruns caused in part by “basic human errors”. It also raised concerns about Network Rail’s asset management regime (see below). INSERT A LINK HERE

ORR chief executive Richard Price said he was “concerned” that Network Rail was “losing touch with key performance targets”. The rail operator was previously warned in July last year and faces a heavy fine if it fails to hit its 92% long distance punctuality target by the end of the 2013/14 financial year.

This fine will be set at £1.5M per 0.1% Network Rail drops below the 92% punctuality target and if assessed on the last quarter would stand at £55.5M.

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