Many passengers have been miserable
The 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.
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.
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.
Robin Gisby on Sky News, 27 December