The Office of Rail Regulation has said that Network Rail could still face action over the poor, but improving, performance on the West Coast Main Line.
Published as part of Network Rail’s quarterly monitor, the ORR said punctuality on the West Coast main line has improved to reach 86.4% in July following intervantion by Network Rail, although the annual average still stands at just 81%.
But ORR chief executive Bill Emery said performance would be watched closely and enforcement action could still be taken: “If necessary.”
Emery said: “The most recent performance figures are certainly encouraging. The situation did require intervention by the regulator for Network Rail to agree a challenging plan with Virgin Trains to deliver an acceptable level of punctuality agreed by both parties.
“But there is no room for complacency and Network Rail must stay focused. The West Coast main line is a route which has seen massive investment; poor performance is simply unacceptable, to Virgin Trains and its passengers and to the other train operators using the line.
“We continue to monitor the situation closely, and we are ready to take more formal action if necessary. ORR has yet to agree Network Rail’s plan to improve performance for the remainder of the year. We will be shortly reviewing that with Virgin Trains,” he said.
The regulator was also critical of Network Rail’s planning for the current 5-year control period, Control period 4 (CP4). “Network Rail must now rise to the challenge, as we are six months into CP4 and we believe certain areas are still inadequate. It is crucial that Network Rail make the changes so that train companies and funders are clear on how it intends to deliver the £8bn programme of enhancements.”
In response to concerns from consumer groups, the ORR will now publish figures on the proportion of trains cancelled or running 30 minutes or more late, and wants Network Rail to cut disruption by 37% by March 2014.
Emery said: “In CP4, ORR will for the first time regularly publish figures showing the proportion of trains that are significantly late or cancelled, and how much engineering work affects passengers. We know from the results of the Passenger Focus surveys that these issues are important to rail users.
“By publishing the figures, not only will rail users be able to access the data for themselves, ORR can monitor the performance of Network Rail and the train operating companies, and take action where necessary if they are falling behind on their targets.
“Network Rail will need to improve its partnerships with train operators in order to deliver significant improvements to reliability, capacity and safety. In our recently published strategy, we outlined our vision of a safe, reliable railway meeting the needs of users, providing value for money and achieving satisfaction levels for passengers and freight users equivalent to the best in railways in the world,” he said.