Network Rail apologises for poor punctuality

Network Rail, the company responsible for maintaining the UK’s railway track and major stations, has apologised for poor punctuality, according to a report by the Telegraph.

The apology comes after reports said that one in six trains were running late, with 45,000 trains failing to arrive on time last month. ‘Network Rail would like to apologise to East Coast’s customers for the disruption caused by these infrastructure failures and the company is redoubling its efforts to improve the reliability of this critical piece of railway infrastructure,’ the company said, with reference to the delays on the East Coast main line from King’s Cross to north east England and Scotland.

The company acknowledged that it was responsible for 70 percent of the delays suffered, when more than 16 percent of trains were over 10 minutes late, the limit set for long distance services. The delays were primarily due to overhead wire failures along with trespass and vandalism, it said.

The overall figures for the network showed that punctuality for the four weeks between August 18 and September 14 was 1.7 percent worse than for the same period last year, equivalent to an additional 10,000 trains running late.

Specific problems on the Southern Line, the line linking London with Sussex and suburbs to the south of the capital, were blamed on three deaths on the line that had led to 23,000 ‘delay minutes’ last month. According to Southern, the deaths accounted for 4,310 delayed trains, with the remainder largely due to deferred engineering works at London Bridge.

The latest figures have been issued at a time when Network Rail has been warned by the industry regulator over its poor maintenance of the country’s track infrastructure. Earlier this month the company was warned that it faced the threat of a fine if performance was not adequately improved.

Network Rail announce major changes to London Bridge train services in 2014

Network Rail has advised passengers of planned changes to train services in and out of London Bridge during August 2014, which will affect First Capital Connect, Southern and some Southeastern services.

The major change to services for nine days between August 23 and 31, 2014, will allow Network Rail to complete the essential track improvements on the approach to the station. The rail network is also planning major line closures in addition to the widely advertised, phased platform closures.

Under the planned changes for next August, no Southern services will call at London Bridge, some First Capital Connect services will be rescheduled and some Southeastern services may be altered. A year’s notice is being given to allow passengers to prepare or make alternative travel arrangements.

Dave Ward, Network Rail’s route managing director for London and the south east said: ‘Rebuilding London Bridge is the biggest engineering challenge taking place on the railway and one of the most important stages of the Thameslink project which will unlock capacity through central London and beyond.

‘We have widely advertised the phased platform closures taking place but we also need a number of shorter, temporary closures to safely carry out extensive track work. The alternative to this would be significantly more periods of short closures over many weekends, which would cause much more disruption to passengers.

‘We are working closely with the train operating companies and Transport for London to provide information as early as possible and passengers can be reassured that everything is being done to keep disruption to a minimum.’

Network Rail has collaborated with the train companies to organise line closures over bank holidays and at other times of the year when train travel is traditionally at a lower rate. Underground and bus services will continue to serve as normal throughout the closures.

To inform passengers of the changes to train services, an exhibition is being organised at London Bridge during the week beginning September 2, 2013. The exhibition will also visit East Croydon station on September 17-18, and Brighton station on September 22-25.

In a joint statement, train operators First Capital Connect, Southern and Southeastern said: ‘The September station exhibition is another opportunity for us to talk with passengers about the Thameslink Programme.

‘We’re working together and with Network Rail and Transport for London to develop alternative travel arrangements for passengers and are committed to sharing this as far in advance as possible.

‘The Thameslink website – www.thameslinkprogramme.co.uk – is where passengers can keep up to date with the Thameslink Programme and sign up for email alerts about changes that matter to them.’

The London Bridge station revamp is part of the GBP6bn Thameslink programme underway on the railway network. On completion in 2018, the redevelopment will see up to 24 trains per hour travelling through central London.

Railway investment boosts businesses in Britain

Railway investment has resulted in more than £3.2bn of work for businesses across Britain over the last year, according to data by Network Rail.

The rail improvement schemes undertaken by Network Rail included the redevelopments of King’s Cross, Reading and Birmingham New Street stations, Crossrail, the Thameslink Programme upgrade and several other projects to improve stations, lengthen platforms and build new railway. According to the Network Rail data, nearly one third of the £1.2bn spent in 2012-13 has benefited small and medium-sized businesses, sustaining over 90,000 full-time jobs nationally, in addition to the 34,000 workers that are directly employed by Network Rail.

Chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, said: ‘Investing in infrastructure has a direct effect on the economy, creating jobs, and giving Britain the infrastructure we need to build a stronger economy and fairer society…. We have set out £100bn of investment in infrastructure over the next Parliament, including supporting the largest programme of investment in rail since the Victorian era. I’m very glad to see that Network Rail is doing their bit to drive sustainable and balanced economic growth across the UK.’

Simon Kirby, managing director of Network Rail Infrastructure Projects, said: ‘The rail industry is increasingly recognised as a key contributor to our national, economic and social well-being. Across Britain, investment in a bigger, better railway has provided a massive boost to hundreds of businesses of all shapes and sizes, supporting sustainable economic growth and jobs.’

The railway’s supply chain ranges from professional services to the construction industry, and rail investment helps sustain jobs across the UK’s many industrial sectors. In the last four years, Network Rail has generated GBP17.3bn of work for its supply chain, of which GBP6.2bn has been with small and medium-sized businesses – a 22 percent increase on the previous four years.

Simon Kirby said, ‘Network Rail will have a pivotal role to play in driving sustainable economic growth over the next five years, with plans to add 700 more trains each day between the key cities of the north, increase London’s rail capacity by 20%, build new lines to increase capacity in Scotland and electrify hundreds of miles of railway so cleaner, faster trains can run. By continuing to invest in rail, we are investing in the future of Britain,’

Between 2014 and 2019, the planned expenditure for enhancements and renewals is nearly £25bn, with 99 percent of this work to be undertaken by UK-based companies.

Virgin accuses Network Rail of breach of contract

Virgin Rail, the train-operating arm of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin group of companies, is demanding that Network Rail, the authority that is responsible for the UK’s rail network, carry out millions of pounds worth of improvements to its infrastructure.

Virgin says that the customer-focussed improvements should be carried out in order to compensate passengers for Network Rail’s recent poor punctuality performance. Virgin Trains owner, VRG, intends to enforce improvements in punctuality, as it believes that Network Rail’s current inadequate performance is tantamount to a breach of contract and is bad for business.

Virgin’s stance follows criticism levelled at Network Rail by the Office of Rail Regulation, which could levy fines of up to £75 million on the rail operator for failing to hit punctuality targets on long distance routes, such as Virgin’s. Virgin, however, would prefer to see that money used for punctuality improvements, rather than being paid in fines to the UK’s Treasury.

VRG’s chief executive, Tony Collins, said, ‘Network Rail has consistently failed to deliver what it is contracted to deliver. That has directly affected customers’ experience, and their impression of rail travel. So any penalties levied on Network Rail should be in the form of tangible improvements that customers benefit from. There is really no benefit to Network Rail, customers or VRG in having money leave the industry.’

Of the delays experienced by Virgin Trains, more than 70 percent are due to problems with Network Rail’s infrastructure, and just 15 percent are attributable to Virgin Rail.

Over the last two years, Virgin Rail has failed to meet most of the targets that had been set for it by the Office of Rail Regulation.

Network Rail falls short on punctuality

Network Rail, the authority responsible for the operation of the UK’s rail network, missed all of its punctuality targets for the last 12 months in England and Wales, according to figures issued by the UK government’s rail regulator.

Due to its shortcomings (or should that be late-comings?) Network Rail could now face government-imposed penalties of as much as £75 million for its performance up until year end March 31, 2013. Official figures from the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) showed a decline in train punctuality of 0.7 percent on the previous year, to 90.9 percent from 91.6 percent.

The ORR had set a target of 92.7 percent for London and the southeast, which Network Rail missed by 1.7 percent. Long distance services fared even worse, with regions including Virgin’s West Coast Mainline, falling 4.5 percent short of the regulator’s 87 percent target.

Commenting for Virgin Rail Group, its chief executive, Tony Collins, said, ‘Network Rail has consistently failed to deliver what it is contracted to deliver. That has directly affected customers’ experience, and their impression of rail travel. So any penalties levied on Network Rail should be in the form of tangible improvements that customers benefit from. There is really no benefit to Network Rail, customers or VRG in having money leave the industry.’

Virgin rail added that 70 percent of delays were the result of issues with infrastructure, which were Network Rail’s responsibility.

In its defence, Network Rail said that it had spent £5 billion on renewal and extension of the UK’s rail network in 2012/13. Patrick Butcher, its Group finance director, said, ‘The challenge we have faced over the last year, and will continue to face in the years ahead, is one of success – more people wanting to use more trains, more of the time. Over the last 12 months we have invested an unprecedented amount in growing and expanding the rail network through over 2,000 projects nationwide.

‘However, the economic times in which we live mean that alongside delivering new capacity we need to keep a constant drive for improved efficiency. Our overall financial performance remains strong and we are on track to deliver over £5bn of cost savings for the five years to 2014.’

Steam powered Bluebell Railway achieves connection to national rail network

The Bluebell Railway, a steam powered heritage line that has, until now, run for nine miles along the border of East and West Sussex in England, has extended its line to join the national rail network.

The extension of service marks the first time in 55 years that the steam trains can operate as far as the town of East Grinstead in West Sussex, with the Grinstead Belle locomotive making the inaugural journey yesterday. The line between Sheffield Park, the locomotive’s previous terminus, and East Grinstead was closed in 1958, but the culmination of an £11 million project that saw the two miles of connecting track completed just last month, has realised a dream for the many volunteers involved in the work. The Grinstead Belle, an E4 Class locomotive, arrived at its destination with a retinue of carriages that were first in service in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Roger Kelly, the Bluebell Railway’s fund-raising director, was quoted in the Daily Mail, saying, ‘I have a feeling of elation and emotion, partly because lots of people who should have been here aren’t here. We are so grateful to all the people who helped with the fund-raising. Without all the donations that they made, today simply wouldn’t have been made possible.’

The locomotive was cheered on by hundreds of steam fans and well-wishers, while a brass band serenaded the trains first group of passengers, who were served a celebratory champagne breakfast on board. The next fortnight will be given over to a festival in celebration of the project, which began as far back as 1974.

Easter rail disruption as new station opens in Reading

Passengers using Reading railway station in the UK are likely to experience disruption this Easter, during a planned 10-day changeover to new station facilities.

The changeover is scheduled to begin this Friday, March 29, and various levels of disruption can be expected until Sunday April 7. During this period passengers have been advised to check before they travel, but new facilities, including four new platforms, two new entrances and a new footbridge will be available for commuters to use from Tuesday April 2. However, platform changes are to be expected during the 10-day period, and passengers should check their platform information on arrival at the station. Train operator, First Great Western, will have staff available to answer queries.

Network Rail programme director, Bill Henry, said, ‘We realise it will be an inconvenience to passengers to plan alternative routes while we undertake the most ambitious part of this massive project to date. If there was any other way that we could deliver the improvements we would do it. But passengers should understand that during the 10 days of disruption to train services we plan to achieve as much as we could in 20 weekends of work.

‘By compressing together the work we need to do we are on target to finish the upgrades one year ahead of schedule in 2015. This Easter is an historic one at Reading – as it will see the wonderful new parts of the station being opened to the public for the first time. It will also see the biggest commissioning of new track, signalling and infrastructure works at one time in the history of Network Rail. We have a huge task ahead of us, but all of this is only possible through the patience of the travelling public and for that I would like to thank them.’

Total investment in the rail infrastructure around Reading will cost £895m, and in addition to the new station improvements there will be a new viaduct to help ease rail traffic flow, and improvements to areas outside the station entrances that are being carried out by Reading Borough Council.

UK’s Network Rail promises minimum disruption to Tarka Line

Network Rail, the authority responsible for the United Kingdom’s rail network, has promised to keep passenger disruption to a minimum during improvements to the line between Exeter and Barnstaple in Devon, which is known as the Tarka Line.

The work is to be carried out during March, and two closures will be necessary to facilitate the upgrade work; however, there will be no closures over the weekend of the Easter holiday.

A closure is scheduled for the section of line between Crediton and Barnstaple from 11pm on Sunday March 10, to 3pm on Wednesday March 13, with work to include track and bridge improvements near Lapford and upgrades at Umberleigh. First Great Western, the train operator for the line, is to provide a bus service calling at all affected stations during the closure.

A second closure is scheduled for Saturday March 23 and Sunday March 24, when buses will again be used to replace trains between Barnstaple and Exeter.

Network Rail customer service manager for the West Country, Tim Maddocks, said, ‘Working with First Great Western, we’ve been able to plan this vital work in a way that avoids the busy Easter weekend. We would like to thank passengers for their patience while we complete these essential improvement works to make the Tarka line safer, smoother and more reliable.’

The Tarka line takes its name from Henry Williamson’s book, Tarka the Otter, due to part of its route travelling through the area of Devon where the book was set. It follows the rivers, Creedy, Yeo and Taw, with a branch to Okehampton that is known as the Dartmoor Railway.

 

Network Rail Hails New Funding for UK Rail Stations

Local communities not currently served by the UK’s rail network could receive a boost as the UK Department for Transport is to provide a fund for new stations.

The £20m fund is intended help local British communities to boost their economy as more new stations are likely to be opened en route.

Robin Gisby, the managing director of network operations at Network Rail, said, ‘Rail is absolutely vital to the economy, connecting people with jobs, bringing friends and families together and helping businesses move goods from ports and airports to our high streets.

As more and more people decide to travel by train, it is important we not only expand capacity where it is needed but also improve access to rail travel. This fund will provide a welcome boost for all those who wish to see better rail links in their community.’

Nick Ellins, the director of policy for the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), said, ‘With train travel more popular now than it has been for 90 years, train companies play a vital role in helping Britain grow and create jobs by connecting families, friends and communities. This fund is yet another way of helping improve and widen access to rail travel even further and aims to build on today’s near record levels of passenger satisfaction.’

The funding proposals for the new stations are likely to be assisted by the rail operating companies and Network Rail.

Network Rail has also welcomed the UK Government decision to propose HS2 phase 2, a new high-speed route that is intended to transform the way that people travel in the UK. The new rail route is expected to provide better connectivity between UK cities.

Network Rail Awards Contract for Rail Electrification Project

Network Rail, a company that operates the railway network in the UK, has recently awarded a ten-year contract for the supply of low carbon electricity for the UK’s electrified rail network.

The contract has been awarded to UK based EDF Energy, who will be providing around 3.2TWh of electricity a year to power the rail network as it carries three million passengers and thousands of tons of freight per day.

David Higgins, the chief executive officer for Network Rail, said, ‘Rail is already the greenest form of public transport and this partnership with EDF Energy will help us make it greener still. Our work to electrify hundreds of miles of railway represents the biggest programme of rail electrification in a generation and will provide faster, quieter and more reliable journeys for millions of passengers every week while cutting the cost of the railway.

Thanks to a firm commitment from government to invest in electrification schemes across the country, we are transforming the railway and providing Britain with a sustainable, world-class transport system that is fit for the future.

This innovative contract for low-carbon energy will provide excellent value to the rail industry and means we are not only providing a greener railway, but also a better value railway for Britain.’

Vincent de Rivaz, the chief financial officer at EDF Energy, said, ‘Network Rail is the biggest single electricity customer in the UK so this long term deal is a massive vote of confidence in our nuclear-backed energy. Rail is already one of the least carbon intensive ways to travel and the huge investment in electrification will be backed by a stable and affordable supply of low carbon energy.

The deal places nuclear energy at the heart of the UK’s infrastructure for the next 10 years and serves to underline that nuclear power is part of everyday life in Britain. It’s a big boost for EDF Energy following our success in winning the supply contract for the UK Government – which includes the NHS, Highways Agency and the Metropolitan Police – along with a deal agreed last year to supply the majority of Scotland’s public bodies.’

EDF Energy will ensure that 100 percent of the electricity it supplies to Network Rail will be matched by low carbon energy generated from its eight nuclear power stations.