The rail watchdog is keeping a close eye on Network Rail’s plans for £100M of engineering works over the Easter weekend, it emerged this week.
The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) told NCE it was keen to avoid a repeat of the chaos caused by major works over the Christmas period.
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 service was branded “not acceptable” by the ORR.
But Network Rail this week announced plans to deploy 14,000 workers over the Easter weekend to complete works across the country.
ORR deputy director for railway planning and performance Graham Richards said: “We don’t want to see a repeat of what happened at King’s Cross and Paddington at Christmas that’s for sure. The contingency plans put in place around [those stations] simply weren’t good enough.”
The ORR has “enhanced its assurance processes” in order to make sure the work runs smoothly over Easter, said Richards.
“This time we’ve sampled a number of high-impact schemes and specifically looked at the contingency plans Network Rail has put in place or is putting in place - it is an iterative process - for those schemes,” he added.
“What we’re expecting from Easter is for Network Rail to think about the implications of any overrun on passengers.”
Following the Christmas debacle, the ORR made nine recommendations to Network Rail, including that it “should make sure there are clear go/no go decision points”.
“The arrangements are reviewed at a series of meetings right up until work is due to start. Actions are decided upon and go/no-go decisions are taken,” said Richards.
ORR sustainable development and plan manager Matthew Durbin added: “Network Rail looks at probabilities about where things might go wrong and what do they need to do in that particular instance.”
After all the intensive preparations, the regulator will leave Network Rail to it when Easter comes round.
“We’re very active with Network Rail at this point in time and over the next week or so,” said Richards. “It is up to Network Retail to deliver the works at the weekend. So our assurance is much more around its preparedness.”
Network Rail said new station facilities, platforms, junctions and thousands of pieces of more reliable equipment would be installed and delivered over the four days of Easter, when passenger numbers drop by up to 40%.
Major schemes include ongoing work at London Bridge, creation of freight lines under Reading Viaduct, and bridge replacement south of Watford.
Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne said: “We have thoroughly reviewed our Easter improvement work and worked closely with the train operating companies. The industry has good contingency plans in place that will put passengers first.”
Network Rail said it was confident things would go smoothly. “We have thoroughly reviewed our Easter improvement work and worked closely with the train operating companies to put in place robust contingency plans,” a spokesman said.