Assessment of Network Rail’s Eastern region shows continued drive on safety improvements

Business / Tue 13th Jul 2021 at 09:03am

THE Office of Rail and Road’s annual assessment of Network Rail shows safety performance in the Eastern region has been good as it continues to work towards improving the safety of its workforce. The region has also managed its infrastructure well with fewer failures on the network in the last year.The regulator also highlights successful delivery of major projects but warns that improvements are needed to catch-up on assessing the condition of bridges and other structures in the region.

In the past year, Network Rail has made good progress in improving the safety of its level crossings, following an Improvement Notice issued to Anglia route by ORR. The region also continues to lead the way on track worker safety.There were fewer failures of Network Rail assets such as signals and overhead line equipment affecting train services in the Eastern region. This, coupled with the impact of fewer passengers and services, meant more punctual and reliable passenger and freight services. In particular, performance on the East Coast Main Line (ECML) route improved significantly compared to the previous year.

While train performance has been very good, there is a clear risk that performance will drop as passengers and services return. Network Rail needs to work cross-industry to retain performance improvements where possible.There has also been improved engagement with freight operators in the region, and a successful trial of using a mobile freight fitter, who can respond rapidly to freight train failures, has taken place on the North London line.

The busy line serves London area ports and continental freight, and the innovative trial was shown to speed up the recovery of a failed train and reduce delays.ORR is concerned that Network Rail is behind on its process for inspecting its structures (e.g. bridges and tunnels) across the GB network. These are important in understanding the condition of the asset and whether there are any faults.

At the end of 2020-21, 45% of the Eastern region’s structures had incomplete examinations of their condition and there is limited evidence that Network Rail has suitable plans in place or is making adequate progress towards completing its structures examinations. ORR is taking action to ensure this is rectified.There continues to be a backlog in the inspection of rail arches with tenants in place, due to difficulties in obtaining access. ORR notes there has been progress between Network Rail and the leaseholder, Arch Co and will monitor progress against the commitment to eliminate the backlog by April 2022.ORR’s report recognises the good work Network Rail’s Eastern region has done in successfully delivering on a number of major projects to enhance the railway despite the Covid-19 pandemic, reducing journey times for passengers.

These include electrification of the Midland Mainline and capacity improvement projects on the East Coast Mainline that will reduce the journey time between London and Edinburgh, and London and Leeds.Network Rail’s delivery of efficiencies is on track across all of its regions, with the Eastern region reporting £181.5 million of efficiency improvements in 2020-21, against a target of £153.4 million.

As the efficiency challenge increases next year, Network Rail must maintain its focus on this important area.David Kimball, ORR’s Senior Regulation Manager for the Eastern region said: “Network Rail has shown innovation and strong engagement with stakeholders over the past year. Despite the challenges of the pandemic it has delivered on a number of major projects and has been able to carry out much needed maintenance and engineering work to deliver a more reliable network.”Whilst the Eastern region did meet its efficiency target, overall it has underperformed financially, largely due to the impact of the pandemic. We will continue to work with the region to ensure the necessary improvements are made.”
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