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Many passengers have been miserable

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Daily Mail front page story about the rail disruptionThe reduced volume of business and commuter travel demand has made Christmas a favoured time for Network Rail and its contractors to carry out infrastructure works on Britain’s railways. But following unplanned disruption on the East Coast and Great Western main lines after this year’s Christmas Day / St Stephen’s Day shutdown, the Office of Rail Regulation is to open an investigation into why trackwork was not completed on time, the Financial Times reported on December 28 (paywall).

[‘Network Rail under investigation over Christmas travel chaos’, Gill Plimmer and Jim Pickard, FT, December 28, 2014]

[…] The [Network Rail] company apologised for the weekend’s disruption, which cancelled all services out of London’s King’s Cross station on Saturday, delayed services at Paddington and caused two-hour waits at nearby Finsbury Park, which was also closed temporarily because of overcrowding.
[…]
“Network Rail, working with the rest of the industry, must learn lessons and prevent problems like this happening again,” said an ORR spokesman.
[…]
The TSSA rail union called on the government to scrap the compensation scheme for rail companies, which saw them paid £172m by Network Rail for late trains while passengers only received £10m.
[…]
About 60 per cent of Network Rail’s income comes from the Department for Transport, 27.8 per cent from track access charges paid by train operators, and 10.6 per cent from income from property and shops. It spent £36.2bn operating, renewing and maintaining the tracks in the five years between 2009 and 2014.

The foul-up generated a large amount of unwelcome press and social media coverage, including articles in the Financial Times and Daily Mail.

Daily Mail, 28 Dec 2014

Daily Mail, 28 Dec 2014

On 29 December, Network Rail’s chief executive Mark Carne, who was on holiday in Cornwall, made a statement.

[‘Statement about the engineering overruns this Christmas‘, Network Rail]

[…] “While we have completed a huge amount of work across the country which will improve millions of journeys, the last few days for many passengers have been miserable and again I apologise for the disruption this caused. The track work outside King’s Cross has now been completed and we now move our focus to completing the other important projects over the New Year without any further unplanned disruption to passengers.

“Following the problems experienced at King’s Cross and Paddington over Christmas, I have instructed Dr Francis Paonessa, who is the Network Rail infrastructure projects director, to provide a report into the sequence of events and associated decision making that led to the problems experienced and to advise any immediate steps that we need to take to increase the robustness of our works delivery capability. I expect the report by the end of next week and I intend to publish the findings.

“The events over the Christmas period highlighted the unacceptable impact on the travelling public when plans go wrong. I therefore propose that there should also be a broader, industry-wide review, into the timing of our major works programmes and the passenger contingency arrangements for such works. […] We have an obligation to manage the essential safety maintenance and renewal activity that is required and we need to do this in a manner that minimises the overall impact on society at large. I will discuss this review with industry parties in the coming days before formalising the terms of reference for this review.”

Also on 29 December, the Daily Telegraph reported that following a ‘public outcry’, Network Rail’s outgoing managing director of network operations, Robin Gisby, would be stripped of a £371,000 golden goodbye.

In an interview he gave to BBC Radio 4’s The World At One, Mark Carne was evasive about who was responsible for the imbroglio, and whether he would be taking any of his bonus. But on the morning of 30 December, Mr Carne said he would not take it.

Network Rail: 'We are required by our regulator, the Office of Rail Regulation, as a licence condition, to have a remuneration plan which incentivises high performance.'

Network Rail (2 May 2014): ‘We are required by our regulator, the Office of Rail Regulation, as a licence condition, to have a remuneration plan which incentivises high performance.’

Oddly enough, a picture of Kings Cross station adorned Network Rail’s online information about directors’ bonuses.

[“New ‘fat cat’ rail row as Network Rail nods through bonus plan for top executives just days after a £53m fine for missing targets”, Ray Massey, This Is Money, 18 July 2014]

[…] Network Rail bosses are on track for bonuses worth thousands of pounds a year just days after the company was fined £53 million for poor punctuality and missing key targets.

Unions reacted with fury after Network Rail’s ‘members’ – the equivalent of shareholders for a company that is a not-for-dividend firm – voted overwhelmingly in favour of a new bonus scheme for the top executives and prompting a new ‘fat cat’ pay row.

The new bonus scheme is less generous than the old scheme it replaces. But chief executive Mark Carne and his fellow top bosses could still get up to 20 per cent of their annual salary in annual bonuses should performance targets be reached.

The debacle is further evidence of the urgent need to reorganise Network Rail, overhaul its supervision arrangements, and reform the system of disruption payments to train operators. Neither the so-called members of Network Rail, nor the Office of Rail Regulation, have been able to bring the company up to standard.

Heathrow Express twitter, 28 Dec 2014: 'Service still suspended after a train hit kit left on tracks by Network Rail. Working to get trains moving again ASAP'

Heathrow Express twitter, 28 Dec 2014: ‘Service still suspended after a train hit kit left on tracks by Network Rail. Working to get trains moving again ASAP'”

Robin Gisby on Sky News, 27 December

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Written by beleben

December 30, 2014 at 12:38 pm

Posted in Planning, Politics, Railways

Tagged with ,

2 Responses

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  1. The DfT has to carry some of the liability here. Since the second Beeching ‘haircut’ and subsequent rationalisation removed many of the contingency routes, major works have always forced blockades rather than diversionary routes on the UK rail network. The delivery of a national contingency strategy for all modes of transport should have been written into all rail franchises, and airport/port operating licences.

    As it happened the TOC’s using EUS, STP and KGX have cobbled together a contingency plan but that did not seem to be getting used on 27th-29th December. Passengers for Scotland, and Yorkshire were still being sent to Finsbury Park instead of to St Pancras or Euston, and failing that to Marylebone which offers ECML destinations North of Doncaster, and WCML North of Birmingham via Banbury or Moor Street.

    Outside the Christmas hiatus the Swanwick melt down could have had a few thousand of the Scotland-London passengers spared their miserable waiting by extending the last trains GLC-CRE and EUS-PRE through for the whole route, and if thought appropriate calling in a loco hauled set from Carnforth, Carlisle, Crewe, or Southall – this option has been increasingly proven in 2014 with le Tour and the Open Golf at Gleneagles. In Harrogate it was reported that a 3000+ passenger queue was cleared in under 30 minutes using 3 ‘special’ services, and at one stage those at the end of the queue were practically running to keep up with the rate of boarding.

    Southwest Trains is perhaps the most refined example of having their contingency plan sorted. Diesel services get turned at Basingstoke, Outer London loop and branch services get terminated where they join the main line, clearing paths for the remaining services to recover. So well practise is this than most regular users know exactly what to expect when something goes wrong.

    London Midland similarly dumps the Trings and gets the semi fast services to make additional stops.

    In theory the East Coast plan is to terminate long distance services at Stevenage and Peterborough, and use the GNTL services from these stations in to London, although on 28th this detail was rather hindered by a blockade between Hertford North and Stevenage. In addition passengers would be sent to EUS or STP for alternative services.

    I’d add a personal experience of how on January 16 about 8-9 years ago both East and West Coast lines were brought to a stand by bad weather, yet I still managed to get back to Glasgow, with less than 2 hours delay. With departure boards blank at both stations I narrowly missed the 17.30 but caught the 18.00 from St Pancras to Burton on Trent. We arrived (delayed) in Derby but in time to catch the Edinburgh train, which due to closure of the WCML was also carrying Glasgow passengers. On reaching Newcastle our train was terminated and the handful of passengers going further on were transferred to road transport – result – I got home, a little later than planned, but was not left to camp out on a London station. I’ve done other recoveries by catching the overnight coaches at Preston, Newcastle and Edinburgh after missing last connections – not though through any well planned contingency options offered by the TOC, but through my own efforts to be aware of the contingencies available.

    Dave Holladay

    December 30, 2014 at 2:17 pm

  2. Millions of potential travellers would not have too many qualms about the Kings Cross and Paddington failures based on the principle that the NR disruptions might well help them when next travelling in that direction. Those on the day making their way to KX Parkway have, of course, a different perspective. Take Sunday 28 Dec and a West Country train heading to Paddington with eight coaches substantially empty and there are complainers over the 20 min delay in the 200 mile and 4 hour journey, even though the train is expected to make up the lost time and arrive on time. NR remains the fall guy, paying automatic compensation to TOCs and fined by DfT or ORR for poor delivery yet continuing to believe it has the expertise and capacity to export its ‘expertise’.
    Not so long ago, it was reported that NR spent £27m / day investing in the railway system. This equates to £10bn pa when we all know that NR’s total spending envelope is nearer £7.5bn pa, with only about a third being for genuinely new improvements, including long-delayed electrification. NR’s classic endeavour was early this year at Dawlish where the £35m spend could, according to an NR exec, based on the above questionable figure, be classed as ‘all in a day’s work’. No doubt another layer of sea containers will make it as resilient as anything Brunel could conjure up.
    And so it is with HS2: if you spend your time travelling the 200 mile and 2 hour journey from Warrington to London, you don’t have much of an interest in those having to make their way from Orrell to Halifax (or Plymouth to London) , or vice versa. Oh what a waste was that £9bn outlay on WCML!

    mcMichael

    December 31, 2014 at 12:08 am


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