Committed to deliver average punctuality levels of 92 per cent on long-distance passenger services in 2013-14, Network Rail (NR) “fell significantly short” with a figure of 86.9 per cent, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) said yesterday.
As a result, under an order made by ORR in 2012, NR is having to return £53.1m to the Treasury in what is effectively a fine.
On long-distance performance in the five years ending this March, the ORR said NR “did not deliver all of its plans to improve performance and, particularly in the early years of the five-year funding period, had insufficient knowledge of the condition of its key assets, such as earthworks, electrical equipment and drainage”.
The ORR said: “As a result of missing its funded obligations, and to address issues which have disrupted services for passengers, the company has committed extra funds to improve the resilience of the rail network in LSE [London and south-east England]. Plans expected to include projects costing at least £25m must be in place by December 2014.”
Over the period 2009-14, the ORR concluded that there were approximately 73,100 additional late trains over and above funded obligations, while for LSE, that rose to approximately 265,500 additional late trains.
The ORR was, however, pleased with certain aspects of NR’s performance, including delivering a major rail enhancement programme largely on time and budget.
Across 118 UK-wide projects, 98 were delivered early or on time, with only one delayed in a way which had a notable impact on customers.
There were more than 1.5 billion passenger journeys on the network in 2013-14, up from around 1.2 billion in 2008-09. Freight increased from 102.7m tonnes in 2008-09 to 116.6m tonnes in 2013-14.
The ORR also said NR and train operators worked well together to keep rail services running safely throughout challenging weather conditions of winter 2013-14.
ORR chief executive Richard Price said: “Network Rail has been successful in modernising and improving Britain’s railways over the past five years, during a period which has seen a record rise in passenger numbers.
“Punctuality is important to passengers. NR committed to improve train punctuality between 2009 and 2014, and was funded to do so. But it did not deliver its commitments for passengers who travel on long-distance and LSE services.
“It is right that money is returned to funders.”
Mr Price went on: “NR must now deliver the basics in planning and managing the reliability of key components of the rail network, and deliver its performance plans to ensure it meets all obligations for customers between 2014 and 2019.”
Anthony Smith, of rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus, said: “Many passengers have been inconvenienced by NR’s failure to reach its targets on punctuality, which remains one of the top priorities for improvement – as rated by passengers.”