Regulators call for review of engineering works after Christmas chaos


Rail operators have been told to put passengers 'at the heart' of contingency planning for engineering works after thousands were hit by severe disruption at Christmas.

An investigation by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) into the handling of overrunning engineering works at King?s Cross and Paddington between 27 and 28 December has highlighted '?significant weaknesses?' in planning and oversight.

Some 115,000 passengers were affected by the disruption while travelling into the two stations, with regulators complaining that poor communication of events resulted in '?widespread confusion'?.

Joanna Whittington, ORR's director of railway markets and economics and investigation lead, said that while Network Rail had a good record for delivering engineering works on time, ?'in this instance passengers were really let down?'.

?'Our investigation found that contingency planning did not fully consider the impact of potential overruns on passengers and that this needs to change. In future, plans will address the impact on passengers as well as engineering and train operation issues,'? she added.

Yet Ms Whittington emphasised that Network Rail could not achieve such a goal alone and called on train operators to ?play their part?.

Regulators said passenger needs, welfare and safety during disruption should be central to train operators? contingency arrangements. The ORR also called for operators to undertake a review into arrangements surrounding the management and control of overrunning works.

Network Rail is currently reviewing all contingency plans for works scheduled over Easter and the May 2015 bank holidays, but has been told to implement all of the ORR?s recommendations ahead of engineering works set for this Christmas.

Responding to the report, chair of the Transport Select Committee, Louise Ellman, said: '?The rail sector must work together to ensure that Network Rail?s planning and communication improves. Network Rail?s investment programme for 2014-19 means that more major and complex engineering work will need to take place. Network Rail must learn from their errors to regain the confidence of the public.?

Labour today accused the Government of being fully aware of problems facing the rail network last December. A freedom of information request sent the party suggests the Rail Taskforce discussed delivery risks of engineering works in November.

Shadow transport secretary, Michael Dugher, said: '?Ministers were warned about the big risks that the sheer scale of engineering works would entail. This shows how incompetent and out of touch ministers are. Passengers and taxpayers deserve answers as to why they were let down so badly. It is not just Network Rail who need to learn lessons - it is ministers too.?'

Responding to the report, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: 'Passengers should be at the heart of everything the rail industry does. The industry must learn lessons to avoid any repeat of the completely unacceptable disruption we saw in December.

'Network Rail and the operators are delivering essential improvements that we are investing in as part of our long-term economic plan. However, it is vital they ensure these works are properly planned and any impacts to services are communicated to passengers.'

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