The national rail watchdog has accused Network Rail of 'systemic failings' and made four clear demands of the national operator following its failures in launching a new timetable this spring.
Parts of the rail network ground to a halt in May, after major timetable changes resulted in wave after wave of delays and cancellations, with Northern Rail and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) particularly badly hit and the repercussions still being felt across the network.
The Office of Rail and Road found Network Rail had 'failed to comply with its licence requirements' in two key areas:
- to run an 'efficient and effective process, reflecting best practice, for establishing a timetable, and any changes to it'
- to 'establish and maintain efficient and effective processes reflecting best practice and apply those processes so as to provide appropriate, accurate and timely information to train operators'.
In response to the debacle, an ORR investigation has resulted in Network Rail being given four orders:
- Action: Network Rail to provide a report to ORR by 31 August demonstrating how it is running an efficient, fair, effective and transparent process in revising upcoming timetables. ORR will assess progress, and report on this.
- Action: Network Rail to revise its recovery plan by 31 August to get timetables back to being agreed 12 weeks in advance (T-12) and for it to publicly report on progress. This will include details of any late notice changes being considered and the reasons for those changes.
- Action: Network Rail to accelerate progress on ORR-approved plans to strengthen timetabling capability and resources, including specific indicators against which ORR will publicly report Network Rail’s progress. Network Rail will provide a first draft to us by 17 September.
- Action: Network Rail to speed up decisions on structural reform and provide ORR with a draft plan by 30 September.
ORR opened its investigation tn February 2018 into why Network Rail was unable to finalise timetables 12 weeks in advance. A wider inquiry into the failings that go beyond Network Rail, for instance contractors and potentially government, has also been launched.
ORR said it report back and set out a further long-term and fundamental review of timetabling in the Autumn.
John Larkinson, ORR’s director, railway markets and economics, said: 'Network Rail’s failings in the run up to the May timetable led to massive disruption, uncertainty and inconvenience to passengers.
'Network Rail has acted to bring the industry together to address timetabling issues but more and faster change is needed to provide assurance to passengers. That is why we have set out these actions designed to improve capability within Network Rail.
'Our ongoing broader Inquiry is looking at the role of the whole industry in the May timetabling problems and this may lead to further recommendations."
Jo Kaye, managing director, system operator at Network Rail, said: 'We accept the findings of the ORR investigation into why timetables weren’t finalised 12 weeks in advance. It’s clear from the ORR’s investigation that the issues with timetabling go much further than Network Rail, and we welcome and look forward to the industry-wide inquiry. We remain truly sorry for the part we played in the process that caused disruption for so many people and we have learned lessons to make sure it is not repeated.
We are already putting the ORR’s required plan into action including establishing new joint working arrangements with train operators to support development of the timetables for December 2018 and May 2019.'