Network Rail delivered rail enhancements largely “on time and on budget” in Control Period 4 (April 2009-March 2014), according to the Office of Rail Regulation.
However, NR fell significantly short of its funded 92% target, delivering 86.9% punctuality for long-distance passenger services in 2013-14.
Similarly, punctuality for London and South East passenger services was also not as good as was hoped, with NR achieving 89.6% against a target of 93%.
As a result, NR will return £53.1 million to funders, for a failure to deliver agreed obligations in 2013-14.
This was achieved against a backdrop of record numbers of passengers and freight carried on the rail network - there were more than 1.5 billion passenger journeys on the network in 2013-14 (up from 1.2 billion in 2008-09), while the amount of freight goods carried has increased from 102.7 million tonnes in 2008-09 to 116.6 million tonnes in 2013-14.
Additionally, significant investment in the freight network has improved the capacity and reliability of freight services.
Some of NR’s problems - and its resultant failure to hit targets - can be attributed to the “insufficient knowledge of the condition of its key assets, such as earthworks, electrical equipment and drainage” at the beginning of CP4, according to ORR. To address issues that have disrupted passenger services, NR has committed extra funds to improve the resilience of the rail network in London and the South East, which was particularly badly hit by poor weather over last winter. The plans are expected to include projects costing at least £25m, and must be in place by December 2014.
ORR said that “a number of significant successes” included 98 of 118 projects being delivered early or on time, with “only one delayed in a way which had a notable impact on customers”.
It also noted the start of the North West Electrification Programme as bringing more reliable services to the region (enabling the running of longer trains), and the introduction of new routes on the East Coast corridor.
ORR also noted improved safety at level crossings, referring to the 800 crossings that have been either upgraded or closed.
It also said that NR and train operators had worked well together to keep rail services running safely throughout the challenging weather conditions of winter 2013-14, “working quickly to recover routes affected by the weather, as demonstrated in its work to repair the line for services running through Dawlish”.
ORR Chief Executive Richard Price said: “Network Rail has been successful in modernising and improving Britain’s railways over the past five years, during a period which has seen a record rise in passenger numbers.
“Punctuality is important to passengers. Network Rail committed to improve train punctuality between 2009 and 2014, and was funded to do so. But it did not deliver its commitments for passengers who travel on long-distance and London and South East services.
“Network Rail fell significantly short of punctuality for long-distance services, so it is right that money is returned to funders. The company will be undertaking extensive maintenance and renewal work to improve punctuality on long-distance services between 2014 and 2019. It has also committed extra funds to improve the resilience of the rail network in London and the South East, for better reliability of services in the future.
“Network Rail’s performance will continue to be under the spotlight. Network Rail has committed to deliver the basics in planning and managing the reliability of key components of the rail network, such as bridges and earthworks, and to deliver its performance plans to ensure it meets all obligations for customers between 2014 and 2019.
“The company has shown it can plan performance effectively and predict and prevent problems before they cause disruption - as demonstrated for the London 2012 Olympics - and it must repeat these standards across the entire network.”
NR is now embarking on plans to improve the safety, performance and efficiency of Britain’s railways in Control Period 5 between 2014-2019, with an emphasis on predicting and preventing problems on the network before disruption can occur. This would be done through enhanced asset management, and better planning and delivery of maintenance, renewal, and resilience works.