Network Rail has been slapped with a £2m fine after the industry watchdog found its performance on Southern, Govia Thameslink (GTR) and Scotland services in 2014-15 had breached its licence.
The Office of Road and Rail (ORR) particularly singled out Network Rail's disastrous engineering upgrades at London Bridge station, which saw passengers forced to jump the barriers at one point to avoid a crush as delays and service chaos led to overcrowding.
However following a separate safety investigation, ORR said that while passenger information and pedestrian flow management 'could have been better' the safety of passengers 'was not compromised'.
The public sector operator will pay the fine from within its existing budget, resulting in a reallocation of existing resources.
Together the three services were deemed 'below expectations' due to missed punctuality targets, with the ORR identifying 'serious weaknesses' on timetabling, a lack of liaison with operators and a failure to plan ahead for passengers.
Southern and GTR combined represented a third of punctuality delays and nearly half of cancelled and significantly delayed services in England and Wales.
Southern ended 2014-15 with punctuality levels at 83.1%, missing its target of 87.8% and a Cancelled and Significant Lateness (CaSL) level of 4.8%, missing the target of 2.9%.
GTR ended 2014-15 with punctuality levels of 85.2%, (the target was 88%) and a CaSL of 4.3% (target 3%).
ORR's analysis of the two services revealed:
- Serious weaknesses in the data for new timetables, including flaws that contributed to incorrect modelling assumptions
- Over optimistic estimates on the impact of the new timetable on performance
- Network Rail significantly underestimated the impact of the Thameslink programme, which resulted in very severe disruptions and frustrations for passengers at London Bridge
In Scotland, ORR identified 'numerous errors in the December 2014 timetable' which were caused by a lack of quality assurance and detailed planning among other factors. Punctuality levels in Scotland were 90.5% against the 92% target.
ORR chief executive Richard Price said: 'Our investigation has identified important issues that Network Rail, working with operators, needs to address to improve performance for passengers on these routes. Our analysis shows that the company needs to develop a much better understanding of the impact of timetabling on the reliability of services and on rail users.
'These serious issues have caused severe disruption and frustration for passengers, most notably affecting services at and around London Bridge. ORR is therefore imposing a £2m fine on Network Rail – a decision we did not take lightly. The scale of the delays suffered by passengers was central to our decision to fine. The penalty sends a clear message to the Network Rail Board; Network Rail must urgently rectify these errors and deliver the reliability of services that passengers have paid for.'
In Scotland performance had improved recently but further timetable changes are on the horizon to facilitate the redevelopment of Queens Street station in Glasgow. ORR said it will closely monitor the steps the company takes to ensure timetable changes are right this time.
Phil Hufton, managing director of network operations at Network Rail, said: 'At the start of this year we had a number of problems that caused passengers disruption and frustration and we apologise for this. Since then we have proactively invested over £11m to improve performance for Southern and Thameslink passengers.
'This investment, which has seen the introduction of a revised timetable, improved equipment, the deployment of rapid-response maintenance teams at London Bridge as well as new information screens and better passenger information, is paying dividends and passenger service reliability has now improved by almost 12% since January.
'While the nuts and bolts of our infrastructure are the most reliable they’ve even been, severe congestion caused by record numbers of trains and passengers makes delivering a consistently reliable service a daily challenge for ourselves and the train operators. At London Bridge we are undertaking the biggest and most complex station and track redevelopment ever attempted on Britain’s railways – while simultaneously continuing to keep services running.'