ORR reports Network Rail has made a “good start” to CP6, despite COVID-19

ORR stated that Network Rail has performed strongly during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Network Rail has made a “good start” to its five-year plan for Control Period 6 (CP6 – 2019-2024), according to industry regulator the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) in its Annual assessment of Network Rail 2019-20.

According to the ORR’s figures, Network Rail has saved more than £385 million in the first year of CP6 as it looks to deliver £3.5 billion of efficiency savings over the five-year period. This saving followed the ORR raising concerns that Network Rail might not deliver the required volumes of work and efficiency improvements needed, prompting an intervention by the regulator.

However, the ORR also found that passenger and freight performance varied by region, with opportunities for Network Rail to learn from its better-performing regions to improve performance nationwide.  For example, passenger train performance has been good in the company’s Southern and Wales & Western regions, but below target in others, with the poorest performance in the North West & Central region.  Freight performance was below target in three of the five regions. 

The ORR has separately investigated and reported on poor train performance in the North West & Central region and confirmed that Network Rail has now developed suitable improvement plans.  The company has also made progress in developing longer-term plans to improve performance by, for example, improving the skills of operational staff, and the ORR is monitoring delivery of these improvement plans. 

The annual report also notes that Network Rail delivered its planned works to renew the railway in 2019-20, making a good start to its five-year plan for keeping the rail network in good condition.  

John Larkinson, ORR

ORR chief executive John Larkinson reported: “We are very pleased that Network Rail has listened to and acted early on our concerns about making efficiencies, meaning that for the first time in many years it is delivering more efficiently than planned. It also delivered its planned volumes of work, to help keep the network in good condition.  This efficient delivery is good news for its customers and funders.

“But performance – in terms of delays to passengers and freight – was uneven and just not good enough in some parts of the network. We will continue to hold Network Rail to account for its performance as services return to a more steady state.

“Working with the industry, Network Rail is looking at what lessons can be learnt from the impact of Covid-19 on how it operates and maintains the railway. This is important work, which has the potential to drive further improvements over time.”

The Coronavirus pandemic has presented huge challenges to Network Rail and the wider rail sector. However, the ORR stated that Network Rail has performed strongly, maintaining safety performance and managing operations effectively, while introducing a new timetable to make sure that vital routes are open for those who need to travel, for people who cannot work from home and for freight . 

Network Rail continued to collect and analyse performance data during the pandemic, while running a reduced service, to examine whether there are specific improvements to the timetable that can be applied when services return to full operation.

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