- By Region
Network Rail is falling short of its punctuality targets on most of the key long-distant routes and could be in breach of its licence obligations, the industry regulator has warned.
The Office of Rail Regulation said performance across the network had “continued to deteriorate” since it first raised concerns about the delays in June.
Richard Price, the watchdog’s chief executive, called for a “step change in performance” in a letter to Sir David Higgins, his counterpart at Network Rail, putting the operator of Britain’s railway network on notice of possible action.
The state-funded operator could face a hefty fine if the ORR decides it is in breach of its licence obligations. Network Rail was fined £3m last year over the botched implementation of a new IT system for planning timetables.
Punctuality for all long-distance services stood at 88.7 per cent, the watchdog said, more than two percentage points short of target, with the East Coast, West Coast and Great Western lines the worst affected.
“Over the last few years, the industry has driven up performance levels to amongst the best in Europe, with over 90 per cent of trains arriving on time,” said Robin Gisby, managing director of network operations at Network Rail. “Yet we acknowledge that in many parts of the country, passenger and freight performance does not meet the standards that our customers now rightly demand. Working with our industry partners, we are committed to making further improvements.”
Mr Price acknowledged that external factors, chiefly the rise in cable theft, had led to a “significant increase” in disruptions, but said those “alone did not explain the extent of the under-performance”.
Rising commodity prices have led to thieves increasingly targeting cabling around the rail network, as well as metals in graveyards and war memorials. In the past three years, cable thefts have cost Network Rail £43m and led to 6,000 hours of delay on passenger services in the 12 months to the end of June.
Pressed on the issue on Wednesday during prime minister’s questions, David Cameron said the government was working with the police to tackle the issue. He told MPs he was “determined to put a stop to this really appalling crime,” adding: “It does involve looking at the whole regulation of scrap metal dealers.”