Tough train punctuality targets set
Rail regulators have set Network Rail (NR) tough new train punctuality targets for the next five years.
Nine out of 10 trains must run on time for all regional, London and south east England and Scottish services for the five-year period starting in April 2014.
On long-distance routes, First Great Western must run 90% of trains on time while a target of 88% has been set for the two main London to Scotland routes - the East Coast and West Coast main lines.
Announcing rail funding for the 2014-19 period, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) said that by 2019 fewer than three in 100 trains on the West Coast line and around four in 100 on the East Coast line should be hit by cancellation or delays of more than 30 minutes.
The ORR also increased, by £32 million, the funding to close around 500 level crossings and improve safety at hundreds more of the highest-risk crossings. Total funding will now be £109 million.
The extra funding comes a short time after the House of Commons Transport Committee heard about concerns about level crossing safety from the parents of Olivia Bazlinton, 14, who, with her friend Charlotte Thompson, was killed at a crossing at Elsenham in Essex in December 2005
The NR funding includes around £250 million to help improve the safety of track workers and to be invested in new equipment and safer working practices.
The ORR has also approved an extra £571 million to upgrade structures such as bridges and tunnels.
In total, NR will receive more than £21 billion over the next five years to fund the day-to-day running of the rail network. The ORR will require the company to bring down the cost of running the network by around 20%,
The regulators have given the green light to more than £12 billion worth of enhancements to Britain's rail network to ease congestion and improve performance on the railways.
Within this, projects totalling more than £7 billion do not yet have clear delivery plans or costs. The ORR is giving NR until March 2015 to work up efficient plans for these enhancements before approving the funds.
The regulators are also proposing that rail users and train operators are given a bigger role to shape the specification and delivery of approved enhancements. This will put passengers at the heart of decisions on how the railway is improved.
Also, the ORR will put additional checks in place to monitor the company's progress on making the network more resilient to bad weather and climate change.
ORR chief executive Richard Price said: "Network Rail has made great strides in improving safety, performance and efficiency on Britain's railways.
"Supported by significant levels of funding from governments, working more closely with the rest of the industry, and learning important lessons from the past, the company is capable of delivering more for customers and taxpayers."
He went on: "This plan for Britain's railways between 2014 and 2019 - informed by the public, consumer groups, governments and the industry - requires a safer, higher-performing and more-efficient railway.
"More level crossings will be upgraded or closed; passengers will enjoy better punctuality and suffer fewer cancellations; customers should have a say in shaping billions of pounds of new investment on the network; and the company will continue to bring down the day-to-day costs of running the railways
"With increased levels of funding in vital areas such as safety and closer monitoring from the regulator, we expect Network Rail to build on past successes and beat the challenges we have set."
NR now has until February 7 2014 to respond in detail and accept or reject the ORR's determination.
NR's chief executive Sir David Higgins said: "The next five years for the railway will prove to be a critical challenge. A challenge to continue to respond to rising passenger demand and our need to grow and expand the network while at the same time juggling the ever harder challenges of improving performance, reducing cost and delivering huge investment projects from which substantial social and economic benefits flow.
"The determination has to be right to help the company, and the railway as a whole, succeed and deliver what's needed by passengers, freight users and the taxpayer. We must now look at the individual targets within the determination, as well as the package as a whole, and welcome the opportunity provided by the ORR to use the coming months to seek clarification and work through the detail."
Speaking on Sky News today, Olivia's father Chris said the extra money for level crossing safety was "an improvement" but that he wanted to see a lot more done.
The RMT rail union warned that NR cuts demanded by the ORR - amounting to £1.7 billion - would "hammer jobs, maintenance and rail safety".
The union's general secretary Bob Crow said the cuts had come "in the same week that the storm shutdown showed that the railways are already short of staff and paying the price for a backlog of maintenance that leaves services at constant threat of total breakdown".
He said: "If the profits and subsidies sucked out of the railways by the private companies were instead retained within the central pot under one publicly-owned rail body, there would be more than enough money to employ extra staff, tackle the shelved repairs and modernisation works, phase out the lethal level crossings and increase capacity and reliability.
"The Government are flying in the face of all logic by retaining the shambolic and fragmented privatised rail model that was set up 20 years ago next week."
Michael Roberts, director general of rail industry body the Rail Delivery Group, said: "Demand on Britain's railway is booming.
"The ORR's final determination is key to enabling the industry to build on its success so that by the end of the decade it can safely and efficiently carry 400 million more passengers and take a million more lorries off the road."
He went on: "Train operators, freight companies and NR share the goal of delivering an even better and more efficient railway for passengers, businesses and taxpayers. The ORR's focus on incentivising key players in the rail industry to work together to achieve this is welcomed.
"We will study today's final determination carefully to understand how effectively it poses stretching yet achievable targets for NR to manage and improve the network."
Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA rail union, said: "Less than two weeks ago, the House of Commons Transport Committee heard a catalogue of negligence by NR at level crossings.
"Now, days before MPs question NR face-to-face about these failures, the rail regulator appears to be jumping the gun on what the committee may recommend to stop these tragedies happening again in the future.
"We should let the committee finish its inquiry before trying to pre-empt its findings."
In April 2012, NR was fined £1 million over the Elsenham deaths and in April this year the company was fined £450,000 over the death of Jane Harding, 52, on a level crossing at Moreton on Lugg, Herefordshire, in 2010.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus, said: "Passengers want safe, reliable train services and more and longer trains to cope with rising passenger numbers.
"This large investment is welcome, and these industry targets should help underpin NR's plans. However, passengers will want to see these revised punctuality targets being met.
"We're also pleased to see a renewed commitment to transparency - allowing passengers to see how services are performing overall, as well as involving them in decisions on how that money is spent."
Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers' union Aslef, said: "More needs to be done but we are glad to see that the ORR is taking this issue (level crossing safety) seriously and has responded positively to our call for more money to be spent on improving what remains the most dangerous element of our network."
Aslef added that it would " continue to campaign for more to be done to ensure that the 8,000 level crossings within our network are reduced in number or made as safe as possible".
Martin Abrams, public transport campaigner for Campaign for Better Transport, said: "The rail expansion in this settlement will be welcome to passengers and will also take lorries off our roads.
"The plan also sets some ambitious and encouraging targets to improve things. What it also shows, though, is that the cost of running our railways is actually falling whilst train fares are still increasing much faster than inflation."
He went on: "Commuters will continue to ask why their fares are continuing to rise at such steep rates while the overall cost of running our railways is falling.
"As real wages continue to fall, we would like to see some of these savings passed on to hard-working commuters."