SEVERE disruption to passengers on the cross-border east and west coast main lines must be halved over the next five years by track owner Network Rail stepping up maintenance, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) ordered today.
ORR chief executive Richard Price said the move was to address travellers’ biggest concern, with the proportion of trains running more than half an hour late to be cut to 3-4 per cent by 2019.
It comes a week after the third major disruption on the east coast main line this year caused by overhead power line problems, when some passengers arrived eight hours late after enduring a 12-hour journey between London and Edinburgh.
A total of 30,000 passengers were hit by the chaos, with 90 trains cancelled.
Overhead line problems have been a major factor in East Coast, the line’s main long-distance train operator, having the worst train punctuality in Britain.
A total of 82.8 per cent of services arrived within ten minutes of schedule in the year to 12 October, compared with the British average of 90.7 per cent.
The ORR said it must reach 88 per cent by 2019.
The west coast line has also been plagued with problems.
Mr Price said: “We have listened to what long-distance passengers have told us - what they are really worried about are serious delays that really disrupt their day.
“Our new target is to nearly halve the number of trains running very late. We think that will make a huge difference.
“It has been caused by Network Rail not doing the maintenance they should have done, and that’s showing up in more asset failures [such as overhead lines], and drainage and signalling problems.
“Over the next five years we will bear down on that and be watching very closely.”
The ORR-ordered improvements come as part of its agreed £21 billion funding for Network Rail for 2014-19, including £4bn in Scotland, which known as its “final determination”.
It has increased funding by 45 per cent to £109 million to close around 500 level crossings across Britain and improve safety at hundreds more of the highest-risk crossings, especially those used by many pedestrians.
The ORR will require Network Rail to bring down the cost of running the network by around 20 per cent.
Network Rail chief executive David Higgins said: “The next five years for the railway will prove to be a critical challenge. A challenge to continue to respond to rising passenger demand and our need to grow and expand the network while at the same time juggling the ever harder challenges of improving performance, reducing cost and delivering huge investment projects from which substantial social and economic benefits flow.
“The determination has to be right to help the company, and the railway as a whole, succeed and deliver what’s needed by passengers, freight users and the taxpayer.
“We must now look at the individual targets within the determination, as well as the package as a whole, and welcome the opportunity provided by the ORR to use the coming months to seek clarification and work through the detail.”