The importance of stakeholder engagement: ORR's assessment of Network Rail

21 September 2023
Good stakeholder engagement - the practice of talking to, listening to, and working with those involved in, or affected by, an organisation's activities - is essential, especially for an organisation like Network Rail which is tasked with maintaining Britain's railways infrastructure.
Stephanie Tobyn
Stephanie Tobyn
Director of Strategy, Policy and Reform
Cover Image
Tracks at Manchester Piccadilly Station

The company has many stakeholders - passengers, train operators, local and national government, ORR, local communities and those who live, or work near, and are affected by Network Rail assets.

Good stakeholder engagement isn't about making everybody happy. It's about ensuring people are listened to, and feedback is taken on board in a consistent and appropriate way which informs and improves how the organisation does business. That's why ORR is today publishing its annual assessment on Network Rail's stakeholder engagement for April 2022 to March 2023, referred to as year four of control period six in the report.

Overall, we found that Network Rail's stakeholder engagement remains largely consistent over time and reasonably strong, but there are some clear areas for improvement. We found that there are differences between the performance of business units.

For the first time our report rates the stakeholder engagement practices of each business unit against each other. The lowest ranked business units are not necessarily poor performing, but they can learn from the others. All business units demonstrated some instances of good practice.

Improving stakeholder engagement

Crucially, while performance was consistent from year to year, we expect Network Rail to act on our feedback and continuously improve. We think there is more that it can do.

  • Our report recommends that Network Rail should:
  • Foster a culture of continuous improvement, looking to improve processes to the benefit of stakeholders
  • Measure and demonstrate the impact of engagement, rather than simply logging it
  • Share best practice between business units
  • Embed genuine transparency of engagement by keeping stakeholders informed, openly and candidly, and explaining how it considers feedback, even if it decides not to act on it. 

We consider stakeholder engagement to be a crucial tool for Network Rail to deliver better outcomes for rail users, and we will work closely with it to encourage it to improve.