Think about passengers as well as engineering, Network Rail told

ORR has demanded a new focus on customers by Network Rail when the rail operator plans possessions but has ruled that the company should escapes a fine for its part in the Christmas chaos which left 115,000 people stranded as engineering works overran.

Finsbury Park at Christmas 2014

Network Rail must think about passengers as much as it does about engineering when planning and working possessions, the Office of Rail Regulation said in its review of the overruns at King’s Cross and Paddington at Christmas.

“The plans failed to put the impact on passengers at the centre of decision making, and this meant the service passengers received during the course of disruption was not acceptable and led to widespread confusion, frustration, discomfort and anxiety,” ORR said.

"Network Rail has rightly acknowledged it didn't do enough for passengers affected by overrunning engineering works at King's Cross and Paddington this Christmas." Joanna Whittington, ORR.

But Network Rail escaped a fine, as the ORR agreed with MPs on the recent Transporrt Select Committee who questiioned the public value of issuing fines.

At the select committee reviewing events in January it was highlighted that a fine for a public company effectively means the public paying – and ORR is happy that the rail company is working to reform and has taken on board its recommendations.

However, the ORR said that contingency planning needs to be far more rigorous.

"Network Rail has rightly acknowledged it didn't do enough for passengers affected by overrunning engineering works at King's Cross and Paddington this Christmas. While the company generally has a good record for delivering engineering work on time, in this instance passengers were really let down," said Joanna Whittington, ORR's director railway markets and economics and the investigation lead.

"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. "Network Rail cannot achieve this alone, train operators will also need to play their part.”

Following the work overruns at Christmas, Network Rail is reviewing all plans for works scheduled over Easter and the May 2015 bank holidays and ORR expects the company to have implemented all the recommendations, including those which require work with train operators, in advance of the Christmas 2015 engineering works.

ORR’s requirements include:

  • Improved planning for potential overruns of engineering works. Passengers' needs, welfare and safety at a time of disruption must be at the heart of Network Rail's and train operators' contingency arrangements. 
  • Effective oversight of engineering work possessions and communications. Network Rail should ensure the key decision points for continuing with critical stages of planned works, and implementation of contingency plans are understood by all parties involved. 
  • Network Rail with support from train operators should review arrangements for managing the control of an overrun incident, with a command structure covering all elements of an incident including train planning, station management and communication with passengers. 
  • The impact of an overrun on passengers can in some part be mitigated by accurate and timely information. The industry now has plans in place to further improve passenger information. The train operator plans, including dates for delivery, need to be published so that passengers can be confident that change will be delivered and ORR can monitor against them. 

Commenting on the report Louise Ellman, chair of the Commons Transport Committee said:

“Network Rail must implement the Office of Rail Regulation’s recommendations in full so that passengers do not face avoidable disruption and chaos."

She added: “The scenes at Christmas were unacceptable. Bad planning, the failure of contingency arrangements and breakdown in communication resulted in thousands of people waiting for hours in the cold outside Finsbury Park station, or stuck on delayed trains. 

"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.”

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