Press releases

Network Rail required to clear backlog on examining structures

15 May 2023
ORR has today written to Network Rail over concerns about a backlog in examining the condition of its railway structures such as bridges, tunnels and culverts.
Cover Image
Bridge over railway line

This is an important issue. If Network Rail does not complete the overall examination process at the required intervals, faults could be undetected (or detected but not assessed).

In some cases this could lead to a safety issue. It can also result in speed restrictions being put in place to mitigate the safety risk, meaning trains don’t run on time. Failure to manage the examination process could also impact Network Rail’s ability to efficiently plan its maintenance and renewal activities. 

ORR has been closely monitoring Network Rail’s progress to clear the backlog of structures examinations since 2021, when ORR first raised this. 

Despite some pockets of good practice, overall there has been limited progress and some regions have seen the backlog increase. 

ORR also has concerns Network Rail may not be able to comply to the company’s own new standard for structure examinations which is intended by September 2023. 

ORR has not been satisfied with the limited progress and, following constructive dialogue with Network Rail, the company has agreed to provide ORR with robust plans with clear milestones to achieve compliance by 30 June 2023. ORR will assess these, with final plans produced by the company at the end of August 2023. 

ORR will then closely monitor Network Rail’s delivery of its plans and will investigate overall progress at the end of the current Control Period 6 (ending April 2024).

John Larkinson, ORR Chief Executive said: 

"There are over 70,000 structures on the rail network, so we understand the scale of the job of inspecting these assets. Equally, we know this requires clear, robust and systematic examination plans but previous attempts to get on top of the backlog of work have failed. Network Rail has accepted the need to do better and it must now deliver against the agreed workplan to clear the backlog."

Notes to editors

  1. Letter to Network Rail.