Rail regulator the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has published its 2019-20 annual assessment of Network Rail and has found that the infrastructure owner beat its target for efficiency savings last year.
In the first year of the new control period 6 (CP6), Network Rail saved more than £385 million as it looks to deliver £3.5 billion of efficiency savings over the five-year period.
However, ORR claims that this followed its early intervention in holding Network Rail to account and to improve planning after concerns were raised that Network Rail might not deliver the required volumes of work and efficiency improvements needed in CP6.
Passenger and freight performance also varied by region over the last year, with opportunities for Network Rail to learn from its better performing regions to improve performance nationwide. For example, passenger train performance has been good in the company’s Southern and Wales & Western regions, but below target in others, with poorest performance in the North West & Central region.
Freight performance was below target in three of the company’s five regions. ORR has separately investigated and reported on poor train performance in the North West & Central region and confirmed that Network Rail has now developed suitable improvement plans.
The company made progress in developing longer-term plans to improve performance; for example, improving the skills of operational staff. It also delivered its planned works to renew the railway in 2019-20. This is a good start to its five-year plan for keeping the rail network in good condition.
John Larkinson, chief executive of ORR, said: “We are very pleased that Network Rail has listened to and acted early on our concerns about making efficiencies, meaning that for the first time in many years it is delivering more efficiently than planned. It also delivered its planned volumes of work, to help keep the network in good condition. This efficient delivery is good news for its customers and funders.
“But performance – in terms of delays to passengers and freight – was uneven and just not good enough in some parts of the network. We will continue to hold Network Rail to account for its performance as services return to a more steady-state.
“Working with the industry, Network Rail is looking at what lessons can be learnt from the impact of Covid-19 on how it operates and maintains the railway. This is important work, which has the potential to drive further improvements over time.”