Network Rail has vowed to consider moving more engineering work away from holiday periods and to change its protocols with private contractors in the aftermath of the Christmas disruption that affected thousands of passengers in London.
Published today, a report from the authority - responsible for the United Kingdom's railway network – promised to ensure all contractors test any new equipment before it is used on a live railway after new but untested equipment failed in the works around the Kings Cross, Holloway Road area in North London , causing major delays.
And in Finsbury Park, managers were taken to task over ‘mutual failings in the communications between Network Rail and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR),( who manage Finsbury Park station), around the implementation of the contingency plan’.
After passengers were left queuing outside the North London station for hours in the winter cold, the report found: ‘Failure to operate a revised platform usage pattern, as agreed the previous evening, was a significant contributor to the subsequent overcrowding, and was only corrected after three long distance trains had cycled through the station.'
It also highlighted mistakes in work at the Old Oak Common area that disrupted journeys at Paddington, where the signalling contractor Signalling Solutions Limited (SSL) took nearly ten hours to complete the planned two hour safety validation, after testing work needing to be redone or rechecked.
‘SSL are a key supplier to Network Rail on a number of contracts, so their work management processes that led to the incorrect conclusion that the signalling testing of the main lines was complete will be thoroughly reviewed by SSL and Network Rail staff,’ the report found.
A spokeswoman for SSL said they are continuing to work with Network Rail to help prevent similar issues arising in future.
'The main issue at Paddington related to vital safety checks being carried out on the signalling systems that ran late for a number of reasons. We obviously apologise to everyone affected by the delay but would stress that the safety and well-being of passengers was our paramount consideration at all times,' she added.
Chief executive of Network Rail, Mark Carne – who turned down a bonus as a result of the public anger over the disruption – unreservedly apologised for the disruption and pledged to ensure 'minimising passenger disruption is at the very heart of our planning'.
‘While our industry has historically seen the ‘quieter times’ of railway use [ ie Christmas and Easter] as the natural time to carry out essential project works, I believe that it is appropriate to challenge some of this thinking,’ he added.
A second independently led review by the industry’s Rail Delivery Group will look into this issue, however Network Rail also pledged to ‘recognise the risks that are introduced at times of peak project delivery, such as Christmas and Easter,’ and give consideration ‘to moving more work away from these peak times’.
In a statement to Parliament, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin described the delays around Kings Cross and Finsbury Park in the North of London and Paddington station in the West as ‘unacceptable’ and said the industry would have to look again at holiday engineering works.