Bletchley station

UK: The Office of Rail & Road has called for Network Rail to take action to retain the service performance improvements seen during the pandemic, as passengers return to the railway.

In its mid-year performance letter to Network Rail published on November 23, ORR said performance remained better than before the pandemic, but had declined over the last six months as passenger numbers have more than doubled and services increased.

Passenger train performance in 2020-21 was ‘exceptional’, with 80% of trains arriving on-time compared with 65% the previous year. This was primarily driven by the reduction in the number of trains and passengers during lockdowns. In the first half of 2021-22 performance started to decline as the numbers of trains and passengers increased, with the percentage of trains arriving on time reducing from 80% to 77%.

ORR’s analysis found that the reductions in performance were closely correlated with the 29% increase in services and more than doubling of passenger numbers, and were approximately in line with modelled levels.

Freight train performance trends have been broadly similar to passenger performance.

There are regional variations, with the Wales & Western region showing the largest deterioration in train service performance from the end of 2020-21. Factors included delays attributed to track failures and temporary speed restrictions owing to track condition.

ORR calls on Network Rail to:

  • deliver improvements to address the issues in its Wales & Western region;
  • continue to embed improved performance management capabilities, and work with the industry to develop a credible plan for the £40m Performance Innovation Fund established by ORR to support innovation — so far only £7·6m has been used;
  • work with industry to develop a clear plan for resolving timetabling and access rights on the East Coast Main Line;
  • demonstrate that it is engaging on, and influencing, service specifications and the timetable elsewhere on the network to ensure that decisions around performance and capacity are well-informed;
  • update its performance plans and targets to reflect revised service levels and usage.

‘The pandemic continues to have an impact on all aspects of running the railway, including staff availability and passenger usage’, said ORR Chief Executive John Larkinson. ’And in that context, Network Rail and the wider industry are continuing to deliver their essential services well.

‘As passenger numbers and freight continue to grow, a reliable and punctual train service performance will be a priority for all users. So, it is important that Network Rail delivers on its own commitments to maintain the network in good condition and also provides clear information on timetable choices.’

ORR has also closed its 18-month investigation into Network Rail’s impact on poor performance in the North West & Central region. In its final assessment, ORR confirms that despite ‘disappointment’ at the speed of delivering certain recommendations, Network Rail has shown a genuine commitment to improve performance and has addressed all 25 of ORR’s recommendations.