Rail regulator investigating Southern’s performance

The independent rail regulator has launched an investigation into the performance of both Southern and Network Rail.

Southern train SUS-150225-011710001
Southern train SUS-150225-011710001

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) is looking at whether Network Rail, which runs the country’s rail infrastructure, has breached its licence over upgrade works and their effect on train services’ punctuality.

It will also be examining the performance of services run by Southern and Thameslink, which both operate across Sussex.

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Writing to Network Rail, the ORR’s director for railway planning and performance Alan Price said he remained ‘concerned about a broad range of Network Rail’s enhancement delivery performance, from early stage development to project completion’.

The investigation will look at if there are ‘systematic weaknesses’ in Network Rail’s overall planning, management and delivery of upgrades, and see if it is doing ‘everything reasonably practicable’ to achieve its regulated milestones.

Mr Price said he understood Network Rail had a number of initiatives underway to tackle the issues but added: “However, our most recent letter of March 2 expressed concern that it was taking too long to establish an overall improvement plan to give us confidence that the company is tackling all the issues as best it could.

“We said we needed further assurance on how and when the plan will be sufficiently finalised.”

In a separate letter he said the ORR’s investigation was focusing on services run by Southern and Thameslink.

This was due to the fact that its initial review showed that they were among the worst performing against their targets.

Just 83.1 per cent of Southern services arrived at their destination within five minutes of their scheduled arrival time in 2014/15, almost five per cent off the firm’s target.

A number of Sussex MPs met Claire Perry, the minister at the Department for Transport with responsibility for the railways, late last month to lobby for improvements to Southern services.

Rail users have been hit with severe delays twice in the last few months. Problems with engineering work at Clapham Junction on April 30 led to an entire day of delays and widespread cancellations across Sussex, while emergency engineering works had to be carried out at Haywards Heath on May 20, which resulted in another day of misery for passengers.

Following changes to Southern’s timetables last month, commuters took to social media to compare themselves to ‘animals travelling to the slaughter’, but the train operating company said the changes were aimed at improving performance.

A spokesperson for Southern said: “In January, the rebuilding of London Bridge station as part of the Thameslink Programme reached a stage where only three tracks were available to us to operate our timetable.

“Unfortunately, the reduced infrastructure was unable to cope with the number of trains, which in turn had an adverse effect on performance.

“In response, Southern made changes to some peak train times into and out of London Bridge which brought about an improvement to performance overall.

“The new timetable incorporates further changes to train times which are designed to ease congestion and reduce the risk of small delays having a major knock-on effect to other services.”

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