Improving train performance in the North West and Central Region

12 January 2022
The most important thing to passengers after safety is the punctuality and reliability of trains. In 2018, performance in Network Rail’s North West and Central region (NW&C) deteriorated and failed to substantially recover during 2019.
Samantha McClelland Hodgson
Samantha McClelland Hodgson
Network Regulation Manager
Cover Image
Tracks at Manchester Piccadilly railway station

That’s why in February 2020 ORR opened an investigation as to whether Network Rail had identified key factors impacting train performance in the region and had set time-bound plans to address them; to test whether Network Rail was doing all it reasonably could to improve services for passengers and freight. 

Causes of poor performance identified

After a few months of close investigation, in May 2020, ORR published its conclusions into poor performance in the North West and Central region

The investigation found Network Rail had identified the main causes of poor performance and had started to develop remedial action plans but lacked delivery timescales. 

We consolidated the conclusions into a series of 25 recommendations to strengthen Network Rail’s improvement plans across the region covering a range of areas including: train performance and operational management, asset management, timetabling, enhancements and track access, Project Alpha, Putting Passengers first Programme and engagement. Network Rail accepted all these recommendations.

Monitoring progress

We then monitored progress against each of these recommendations and progress more broadly. 

An investigation is a serious step in our holding to account process, but we welcomed Network Rail’s NW&C region acknowledgement of the issues it needed to address and the open and constructive engagement between us throughout the process.

We published our assessments of the region’s progress with our recommendations at the six-month (December 2020) and 12-month stage (May 2021).

Further action needed 

Our findings in May 2021 highlighted that the region had made good progress against the majority of the recommendations, however it had not made sufficient progress on two operational and four asset management recommendations. 

We therefore extended our enhanced monitoring and assessment for a further six months, holding NW&C region to account for its obligations to complete these six actions.

Investigation closed

In November 2021 we closed our investigation as our final assessment confirmed, despite some disappointment at the pace of progress on delivering certain recommendations, we were now content that Network Rail has shown a genuine commitment to improve performance and has addressed all 25 of ORR’s recommendations. 

ORR continues to monitor the relevant activities and benefits from these improvements, as well as the region’s overall performance as part of its normal monitoring and holding to account processes. This programme of close scrutiny of NW&C region has also provided insight which has helped our targeted engagement with all other regions.