Page last updated at 11:50 GMT, Thursday, 28 August 2008 12:50 UK

Network Rail told to cut delays

A worker on a railway line
Network Rail is responsible for maintaining the railways

Britain's railway watchdog has set Network Rail (NR) a target of reducing passenger disruption from planned engineering works by more than a third.

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) said delays and cancellations must be cut by 17% within three years and by 37% within five years.

The ORR told NR it had to improve its management of the work to reduce unplanned disruption when it overran.

It also said train punctuality is at a 10-year high.

The railway watchdog welcomed train company performance figures which showed more than nine out of 10 trains ran on time from April to June.

But it insisted NR had to implement a programme of improvements.

Three engineering overruns caused travel chaos at New Year, leading the ORR to fine NR a record 14m.

One of the overruns was on the West Coast Main Line, which runs between London and Scotland. Continuing engineering work has led to service disruptions on most weekends this summer.

Rail improvements

The ORR said NR was also missing its performance targets on the other main London to Scotland route, the East Coast Main Line.

Passengers recognise that engineering works are necessary and will tolerate some short-term inconvenience for real long-term gain
Anthony Smith
Passenger Focus
ORR chief executive Bill Emery said the regular closure of parts of the network for engineering work had caused substantial disruption and inconvenience to passengers and freight, deterring others from using the network altogether.

"For rail to make its full contribution to our economy, it is important that this disruption is reduced significantly," he said.

NR will have to implement improvements to its management of engineering work, including better risk and contingency planning, increased communication with train operators and rail users and stronger on-site management.

Inform passengers

A Network Rail spokesman said passengers were enjoying the best train punctuality since records began.

He said reducing disruption caused by improvement work was a "central pillar" of future plans.

"Delivering a railway at weekends to the standard we see during the week must be our goal and we've asked the ORR for significant funds to make this 'seven-day railway' a reality," he added.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of customer watchdog group Passenger Focus, said he had been urging the industry to give passengers accurate, timely and co-ordinated information about when engineering works would take place for some time.

"Passengers recognise that engineering works are necessary and will tolerate some short-term inconvenience for real long-term gain but the rail industry should do more to inform passengers not only of the engineering works but also the benefits the work will bring," he said.

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