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Tom Winsor, Rail Regulator
"I am going to put this right"
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The BBC's Tom Heap reports
"The National Audit Office wants clear targets and incentives on punctuality"
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Wednesday, 12 April, 2000, 07:41 GMT 08:41 UK
Watchdog attacks rail regulator
Train in a station
Auditors want clear targets on train punctuality
A spending watchdog has heavily criticised Railtrack and the Office of the Rail Regulator.

The National Audit Office (NAO) says both failed to agree what work needed to be done when they were set up in 1994.

This had made it impossible to measure Railtrack's achievements and failures since then.

The NAO accepts regulation has improved in recent years but says it wants clear targets and incentives on improving punctuality and reducing cancellations.

The report also points out that passenger train delays had fallen by 26% since 1995/6, despite a 27% growth in passenger traffic.

Between 1995 and 1999, Railtrack received 139m in performance bonuses, says the report.

More broken rails

But the state of the network's tracks is worse than in April 1994 when Railtrack took over infrastructure responsibilities from British Rail.

The number of broken rails had increased and Railtrack was responsible for nearly half of all delays to passenger trains, said the NAO.

Railtrack is responsible for track, signalling and stations on the rail network.

"Today's report shows how weak regulation has enabled Railtrack to earn substantial bonuses despite being responsible for half of delays to passenger trains and while at the same time the condition of the track is not up to 1994 levels," said the chairman of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, David Davis.

'System is flawed'

He said it was "wholly unsatisfactory" that 3% of the track was now in a "very poor" condition.

Mr Davis said: "The whole system for awarding bonuses to Railtrack for these (train-delay) reductions is flawed."

Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO, said: "The rail regulator needs to overcome the difficulties experienced up to now in monitoring Railtrack's performance and setting effective incentives.

"I therefore welcome the action he is taking to secure that Railtrack maintain, renew and improve the national railway network on which the public and industry depend."

The NAO recommended the rail regulator should:

  • Set out more clearly what it expected Railtrack to deliver on maintenance and renewal.

  • Set and keep to a timetable for removing deficiencies in its information on the condition of Railtrack's assets.

  • Ensure that key elements of the monitoring information from Railtrack were independently verified.

  • Continue to develop appropriate targets and clearly predictable incentives for Railtrack to improve its performance on punctuality, cancellations and track condition.

Railtrack faces fines both this year and next unless it meets tough new train delay reduction targets set by regulator Tom Winsor.

Changes already

The Office of the Rail Regulator welcomed the "thoroughness" with which the NAO had produced the report and said it would be studied carefully to see what lessons could be drawn.

Tom Winsor, who became Rail Regulator seven months ago, said he could not be held responsible for decisions made by predecessors.

He agreed that the regulator's framework was not fit for its purpose.

Bonuses should not continue to be paid while trains ran late because of Railtrack mistakes, he added.

He said it was impossible to change the bonus system until April 2001, but from then bonuses would not be paid if the service was not up to scratch.

"We can't turn a supertanker on a sixpence," he said.

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See also:

22 Feb 00 | Business
Railtrack faces its critics
04 Nov 99 | The Company File
Railtrack profits spark anger
15 Dec 99 | Business
Who pays for Railtrack?
17 Feb 00 | Business
Railtrack plans record spending
20 Jan 00 | Business
Railtrack misses targets
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