Network Rail’s plan to improve management of its engineering works has worked, according to the annual report of the Office of Rail and Road, although its findings reflect the problematic CP5 period.
Overall the report for the year 2015-16 in England and Wales said there had been ‘good progress’ in improving infrastructure, but these expensive improvements have not led to a better performance across the whole network. There were particular concerns about project management in Scotland highlighted in a separate report.
After concerns about the amount of money Network Rail was spending, last year Sir Peter Hendy reviewed its major projects and came up with an enhancement improvement plan, which included the deferral of work into CP6.
ORR’s chief executive Joanna Whittington said about the report: “Network Rail is making good progress on health and safety and its programme to improve asset reliability. However, while its track and signals are now more resilient, this cost more than expected and network performance has not improved.
“Over the course of the next year, we need to see evidence that Network Rail’s initiatives are delivering financial efficiencies and noticeable performance improvements for passengers while achieving gains in health and safety.”
The report does show that Network Rail did actually underspend £718M of its £4.9bn budget – this was largely down to lower inflation and delaying projects – signalling and civils account for the majority of this. In the area of renewals, £677M of work was delayed, and the work that was done cost £386M more than expected. There were also enhancement projects that were most costly than expected, including a £95M overspend on Crossrail, so the cost of the work Network Rail actually delivered in enhancements was £67M higher than expected. The report said: “The scale of these variances suggests that the budget for 2015-16 was probably too optimistic.”
It notes that in particular relation to the civils work, it was a difficult year due to the winter storms, which increased the number of annual earthworks failures by 59 the year before to 162.
Despite the Hendy Review changing project dates to make them more deliverable, the report said the most high profile project at risk remains the electrification of the Great Western mainline, particularly in relation to complex locations and getting local consents.
Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne said in response: “The latest monitor from the regulator clearly shows that the steps we’ve taken over the last year are delivering benefits for our customers and passengers across Britain. But there is still a lot more to do and in some places the service is still not where I want it to be.
“Despite that, our railway is the safest, fastest growing network in Europe and the number of faults with the infrastructure that cause delay is at an all-time low levels and continues to fall. But with record numbers of people using the railway and growth almost twice the rate predicted, managing an ever more congested network is a daily challenge.
“The billions of pounds being invested in the Railway Upgrade Plan will deliver extra capacity for more trains and more seats – that means better journeys for passengers and helps support economic growth, jobs and housing. Our focus is on delivering that work as safely, efficiently and effectively as we can and I’m confident we now have the plans, processes and people in place to do that. Key to our success will be our ongoing strategy to devolve power to route-based businesses focused on delivering for our customers.
“It’s pleasing to see that the regulator has highlighted the incredible efforts of our orange army this Easter, when 15,000 people worked round-the-clock to deliver £50m of improvements across 1,000 sites. Despite the impact of Storm Katie over 99% of the work to add capacity and improve reliability was completed on time.”
However in Scotland a separate report from the ORR said it had concerns regarding the ability of key projects to meet their obligations and regulatory milestones.
These projects included the electrification of Edinburgh to Glasgow line and the cost of the Aberdeen to Inverness Improvements Phase 1 project.
The report said: “The challenge for Network Rail is now to embed the new approaches into its business, so that the intended benefits are realised. Some activities will take time, for example assessing staff competency against new skills frameworks and identifying training and recruitment needs.
“Many will also require cultural and behavioural change so that improved practices become part of “business as usual”. With this in mind, we have asked Network Rail to develop and share its plan on how and when it will check that intended improvements have been achieved across its business, including in Scotland.”
Network Rail Scotland and ScotRail Alliance managing director Phil Verster said in response:“Our Network Rail project teams and their suppliers have a strong and proud track record in Scotland of delivering on-time and on-budget. We need look no further than the Borders Railway line to see evidence of that.”
He added: “Very importantly, our teams have learnt valuable lessons from the circumstances, decisions and programme impacts over the last months. The Edinburgh-Glasgow Improvement Programme is still progressing well and, as the ORR indicated today, the costs have risen due to extra compliance requirements, complicated interfaces with other projects and other unforeseen factors such as severe weather impacts.
“Despite this, I am pleased to confirm that we are committed to still deliver the overall railway enhancement programme for Scotland by March 2019, and within the agreed funding limits.”