Sunday, April 13, 2014

Network Rail fails to meet punctuality targets and faces a record £70m fine

The rail operator's services arrive on time, or within five minutes, just 89.9% of the time – well short of its 92.5% target
Network Rail argues recent bad weather and the growing popularity of rail services have made it harder to meet punctuality targets. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Network Rail has admitted it has failed to meet its punctuality targets, as it braces for a record fine of up to £70m.
The organisation that owns and operates Britain's railway infrastructure has fallen well short of its goal of 92.5% of services arriving "on time" – within five minutes of their scheduled time. It is expected to tell its regulators on Monday that at least one in 10 trains have been running late.
The Office for Rail Regulation can fine Network Rail a fixed amount for every 0.1 percentage point away from its target. The Sunday Telegraph reports that Network Rail's punctuality is 89.9% – a figure Network Rail insiders described as "fairly accurate" – with one day's performance to go. Network Rail argues that the recent bad weather, and the growing popularity of rail services, made it harder to achieve the punctuality targets agreed five years ago.
"It's obviously disappointing not to get closer to the target," said a Network Rail spokeswoman, who said last winter's storms had been a significant factor. "It's clearly not the only reason we didn't hit the target. There are things we need to improve, including asset management and the network itself".
The ORR could reduce the fine if it concludes that there are extenuating circumstances for the poor performance. Last November, though, it rebuked Network Rail for a £1.2bn underspend on maintenance, saying this had led to infrastructure problems, causing many delays.
As well as recent flooding and storms, Network Rail also points to the increase in passenger numbers in recent years. That, it argues, means a problem with one train has a bigger knock-on impact than in 2009 when the targets were set. "The popularity of the railways puts more pressure on us as we try to run a punctual network," the spokeswoman explained.
The ORR reported earlier this month that it received 32 complaints per 100,000 journeys in the last three months of 2013, 14% less than a year ago. Time-keeping remains rail travellers' biggest gripe, with one in three complaints related to punctuality or reliability.
Network Rail insists it is taking steps to improve the network, with £38bn of investment scheduled for the next five years to increase capacity and relieve congestion.


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