A catalogue of problems
On 12 January 2015 Network Rail published its internal report into the post-Christmas chaos on the East Coast (Finsbury Park and Kings Cross) and Great Western Main Lines (Paddington). The report, by Dr Francis Paonessa, found a catalogue of problems including poor planning, equipment failures and communication breakdowns.
[‘A review into the causes of passenger disruption affecting King’s Cross and Paddington station services on 27 December 2014’, Dr Francis Paonessa, Managing Director Infrastructure Projects, Network Rail, 12 January 2015]
[…] Like all infrastructure, railways wear out over time and the rail, ballast and sleepers (foundations) have to be renewed. The timing depends on the rate of deterioration, which is a function of the speed, weight and frequency of trains. Also, the rail infrastructure is being enhanced, extended and upgraded to cope with increasing passenger growth.
To do this type of renewal and enhancement work, the railway needs to be shut. There are very few opportunities to shut the railway completely for any extended period of time on urban routes and, therefore, the Christmas period, when passenger numbers are about 50% lower than at other times of the year, has traditionally been considered a suitable time to deliver these types of projects.
The engineering works at Holloway Junction [ECML] and at Old Oak Common [GW] were complex and very extensive. The plans of the project teams to undertake the works had been reviewed using the standard processes that were introduced by Network Rail to improve the delivering of project work following engineering overruns in 2007.
Both projects had also been assessed using an industry standard risk assessment tool and both passed with a greater than 95% likelihood of handing back the railway into service on time. This exceeded the threshold level of confidence generally deemed appropriate for this type of critical operation and is consistent with the regulatory funding available to Network Rail. Given the limitations of service recovery options, it is reasonable to question whether a higher level of delivery confidence might have been appropriate in this case. There were shortfalls in the delivery of the project plans, in the management of the project contingency plans during the work and in the service recovery plans after an overruns were recognised.
The issues causing the engineering activities to overrun at Holloway Junction, affecting King’s Cross Station, and at Old Oak Common, affecting Paddington Station, were of a very different nature. When the issues arose, they were escalated within Network Rail’s and the respective contractors’ management teams. The nature of the issues meant that the Train Operating Companies (TOCs) were given around 14 hours advance warning of the overrun affecting King’s Cross Station, but no warning at Paddington Station.
The internal report is no substitute for an objective external investigation and might be best seen as a way of putting clear water between the chaos and Network Rail’s management. Apparently, Francis Paonessa and Mark Carne were on holiday at the time of the imbroglio, but they should not be able to dodge responsibility for the failures. It’s also worth noting that when he was chairman of Network Rail, HS2 chief David Higgins used to talk up “alliancing” as a way of improving efficiency on the railway. But the post-Christmas chaos on East Coast was brought about by just such an ‘alliance’, between Network Rail and Amey Rail.