Office of Rail and Road August 2023 newsletter

1 August 2023
John Larkinson
John Larkinson
Cover Image
Two O R R inspectors in high visibility clothing and personal protective equipment on a health and safety visit in December 2019 to the Auch Viaduct (UB 310/151) and a nine span, steel railway viaduct near Tyndrum on the West Highland line

Hello and welcome to our August 2023 newsletter. 

Each summer, we publish our annual reports for the different areas that we oversee. These reports are an important part of how we hold Network Rail, train operators, High Speed 1 and National Highways to account for what they deliver for their customers. Short summaries of our reports for 2022-23 are set out below, with links to the full reports.  

In July, I hosted ORR’s: A Year in Rail at Broadway House in London. This was a great opportunity to talk about some of the key areas we’ve been working on over the last year, discuss what we are focusing on in the year ahead and answer questions from across the rail industry. You can watch a recording of the session below. 

John Larkinson 

    A Year in Rail: video transcript for the introduction by John Larkinson, CEO

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    So I want to talk a bit about the context for railways at the moment, particularly in terms of usage and in terms of revenue and performance. I just want to set the scene a little bit and then I want to pick out three themes, three areas of work we should see in some sense, as cross cutting. I want to talk about Network Rail’s modernising maintenance programme that cuts across issues around financial issues and safety issues. So it cuts across a number of themes which we're covering today. I want to talk about Network Rail’s work on structures, structure examinations. Again, I think that blends a number of issues around asset management and impact on performance, and also around potential safety and money issues. And then I want to cover an issue which is much more now rather than looking back over the last year. The debate about ticket office closure brings a classic set of issues around money, around impact on passengers and around accessibility.

    Accessibility has been a big issue all year, really, and will be in no doubt in the coming years. I also particularly want to pick up on that because Iain Stewart talks about it in his session. So that's the plan in terms of what I'm going to cover. I start off with passenger journeys because look at the chart, I mean, in many ways this is a good news picture. Passenger journeys is on an upward trend and if you look at the most recent data of the last few periods, that upward trend is continued. So that's good. So the very latest data shows that passenger journeys are probably up at about 95% of pre-Covid. In that sense, that's positive. It's interesting what happens when you strip the Elizabeth Line out of that, when the number comes closer to, I think about 80, 80 percent of pre-Covid. The Elizabeth Line has had a huge impact on the data. Really enormous. Another measure of usage, which I think is a good one, is train miles operated. Train miles operated are probably around about 85% of where we were pre-Covid. So we have still got fewer people on the railway.

    We're running fewer trains. If you look back over the last year train performance was poor, it was poor passengers, it was poor for freight. That's not a particularly good combination and doesn't help this issue in terms of selling railway either to people either as users, passengers or as freight users. So that's a journeys point. Turn now to revenue. I was talking to somebody a couple of days ago and they said it's really good news and syndrome revenues are almost back at pre COVID levels. It does depend a little bit on what you're comparing to. What if you put that in nominal terms that's probably, I think, not far off being true. There might be a little bit better. But if you look at this chart which is adjusted for inflation, it's not the case. There's still quite a big gap. I think the latest data, again, this is the year end, I think the very latest data shows it's still less than 80%. It might be about 78, 79%.

    Obviously, complicated all these things a little is the industrial relations impact. If you look at the impact over the course of the year, since the industrial relations probably started last June, you're probably talking about £600 million pound hit on revenue, I think roughly for the whole year. So these are real ballpark numbers, but roughly for the whole year. So the financial position is still not good in terms of that revenue gap. Over the medium term, revenues should rely on revenue growth. That's what drove the improving financial position. The lack of revenue growth, indeed, that will absolutely impact revenue the other way.

    Onto freight. So freight suffers from poor performance in the way that passengers suffer poor performance. So the fact that performance have not been good over the last year has not been good for freight. Freight also, freight is what you might call the macroeconomic factors, which are typically impacting certain segments of the model, I think it's fair to say. And certainly from conversations, my conversations with freight companies, a defining factor is that in the current environment, in the current industrial relations environment, it's not easy to get new customers. It's a hard sell in terms of the state of reliability of operations and so on. So, again, it's a tough picture there in terms of the overall state of the model. 

    So coming on to some specifics now, because later on, Liz is going to cover issues around money saving, around efficiency and the railway. Given the financial position, efficiencies are important. Later on, I know Ian's going to refer to Modernising Maintenance when he talks about safety. So we support principles of the Modernising Maintenance programme. This is a programme which is designed ultimately to make the railway both more efficient and safer. Safer because, generally speaking, if you put technology in instead of people, it's a safer operating environment for the remaining workers on the system. So it's designed to do both scientifically safer and more efficient. And it does involve reductions in headcount through a voluntary redundancy programme. These savings, four year savings potential to £100 million pounds are important given the financial position by the railway. That's absolutely clear on that.

    But Network Rail does need to show it’s implemented safely. So what does that mean? Because I'm saying, in principle, it should be safe. But as we know, all the history of reorganisations and any major changes in working practises, it's always about the detail, it's always about exactly how you do it.

    And therefore this is very local. This is down to individual delivery units, it's down to specific changes in working practises. So we've been putting a lot of work in with Network Rail under the trade unions to help drive this work programme forward. And when I say been working with, I mean both in the sense of challenging, as in, are you doing the right thing here? Have you done this? Have you done this? But also trying to help and support. This is a role where we're not just sitting on the sidelines, we're getting involved in the detail of the changes to help get to a point where this programme can be implemented deliver the benefits and do the same thing. So we're down to very specific areas of work, particularly around control of fatigue. And again, thinking ahead to Ian's presentation, management of fatigue is a big and growing issue on railway and also about competence, because you're asking people to work differently, you do different jobs. That's good in the long run, but you've got to get people to the point where they can actually do it. And so in this case, I think this has been what you might call a slow process. But I think it's good that it's been a slow process because it means, actually the detail is being worked through. There's no gain from rushing this sort of process. You need to get to the point where you cracked all the detail. And we're getting to the point, I think, where we talk about go live dates in the autumn, October and November time.

    Okay, the second issue I want to come to is around structures. So here we again have got a number of interfaces. Again, with speed, you've got problems with structures, and because there's problems, you have to introduce temporary speed restrictions or something that's going to hit performance. Also, potential safety issues. It's an asset management issue. So if you look back through the records, we've been concerned about Network Rail’s backlog of structure examinations for some time. By structure examinations, I mean through the full lifecycle. So I mean the actual examination itself, seeing the results of the examination, deciding what to do about it and then actually doing it. There's a sort of sequence of events. There are impacts, as it says here, in terms of if the process doesn't work. And we got to the point, and certainly came to head a few months ago where Network Rail's progress was just unacceptable, and got to the point indeed I think a good point in the sense where Network Rail agreed that it's unacceptable and they had to do it a lot better. So we agreed with Network Rail a new approach. We've agreed with Network Rail effectively a sequence of events which are time bound and are based at the regional level in terms of bringing around compliance with structural examinations regime.

    First stage of this was to get a set of revised plans from Network Rail at a regional level. And the positive news, really positive news from my perspective is that they are a significant improvement on what we have seen before. So Network Rail was given a challenge, they responded to the challenge and Network Rail are due to publish the final plans by the end of August. So we'll see where we get to then. But we are in a better place than we were. I think that's very positive. It's a positive reaction from Network Rail. But what we're still seeing in the plans is a lot of regional variation. So the question is, well, okay, how fast do you get to full compliance? What is full compliance now? How fast do you get there? We've seen quite a bit of regional variation, particularly the Eastern Region, for example, is going to take quite a bit longer on current plans to get to full compliance. So we're looking at that regional variation at the moment. But I think we're getting in a better place there as a result of the recent discussions. 

    Okay, I sort of wanted to come on to the recent announcements about ticket office closures and link it up with what the Iain Stewart, Chair of the Transport Select Committee, is saying in his session. We've had a lot of people coming to us saying, what are you doing? What are you doing about this? You say you've got a consumer role passenger role so are you stepping in, stopping it. Other people coming to us saying, this is important, it's important about changing the way tickets are being sold. We hope you are going to be in full support of this. So I think it's always useful in a sense, to be clear what your role is in this, because it's always easy effectively to muck in on any topic and everyone's got a view. But ultimately some people have decision making roles in some areas and some people don't. So this whole area of whether to launch this initiative or not is a government decision. That's quite clear. 

    So what's the role of the ORR? So we don't have a decision making role in that sense, but the crucial link is around the accessible travel policies. So basically, all the operators have to have an accessible travel policy and it's approved by the ORR. My personal view is the accessible travel policies have driven significant improvements in accessibility over the last few years. I remember when this programme was launched, it was a big initiative. We challenged operators around it to come up with much better accessible travel policies. I'm not saying it's perfect, but it's a lot better than it was a few years ago. I'm not actually sure the rail industry has got quite the recognition it might have got for all that work. If you just look at times of booking assistance and the enormous improvements in that, that's a real game for passengers. 

    But now this changes. This is a change in one of the variables in effect in the accessible travel policies. So from our perspective, what we now need to go back to is to ask the operators. Okay, so if you implement these changes that the operators have set out in their own consultation, what do you see as being the necessary impact on your accessible travel policy? This is an initial assessment because we know there's probably a long way to go on this, but we need to get this conversation started now to make sure we understand if we're content about how the accessible policy travel policies might change over time. 

    So I think we're looking for responses on that next week and that will be the start of an ongoing conversation. So in my mind, that runs alongside the consultation that operators are doing at the moment. Transport Focus are going to be following up on that consultation and giving their own views. There's a set of processes running alongside each other, but I'm really keen that we're clear what our role in this is and I think we are, but obviously there's quite a long way to go in that.

    So I was going to stop there. That was just a general view of some of the big issues that we're facing at the moment. 

    Annual Reports 

    Annual Assessment of Network Rail 

    Network Rail continued to keep the railway running safely. It also exceeded its annual efficiency target, reporting £934 million of efficiency improvements, ahead of its £911 million CP6 target, and remains on track to deliver its overall CP6 efficiency target. But many of Network Rail’s other targets for the year were missed. Coinciding pressures, including the impact of industrial action, extreme weather and financial pressures, particularly from high inflation - have impacted Network Rail’s overall performance.  
    We remain particularly concerned about the sustained decline in both passenger and freight performance and have required Network Rail to produce comprehensive regional performance improvement plans covering both passenger and freight services. The company accepts it must improve. 

    A Year in Rail: video transcript for the annual assessment of Network Rail

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    Thank you, Ian, and good morning, everyone. I'm going to cover our annual assessment of Network Rail's performance. Our report was published last week, last Thursday, and it's available on our website. This is a report about Network Rail’s compliance with its licence obligations and also the commitment that it made for this control period, so control period six. It sets out Network Rail's performance against a range of measures for year four of control period six, which would be April last year to March this year. It's quite a big report. It covers the national chapter and then we look at performance against each of the regions. And through it, we're trying to identify areas of good practice and also where there is a need for improvement. 

    I've listed here what I think are the five key takeaways for the report. The first is the contextual point, and we have spoken about this at large already, but industrial action has impacted Network Rail's overall performance in a number of ways. Delivery of performance to passenger in the fleet has been impacted. It's also impacted Network Rail's delivery of renewal maintenance work. It's had a financial hit, particularly through schedule 4 payments. There's also been market distraction throughout the year. A lot of that's too difficult to quantify, but we think that has a significant impact during the year. Then extreme weather, particularly the heat this time last year. In July 2022, there were issues, overhead line issues, line side fires, and then also huge issues with track reliability because the ground underneath the track became very dragged out. Therefore, temporary speed restrictions were put on and that endured for quite a while, even after the heat had gone. Then flooding later in the year, we're seeing the impact that the weather can have. 

    When we talk about the financial pressures, John's already mentioned inflation, that is having an impact on Network Rail's costs. I think there's also a health warning within the report that we don't see those as year four issues, but these issues could continue on from year five and potentially beyond. But we're still monitoring the impact on Network Rail's performance for all of those things. Ian's just covered the safety points. Network Rail achieved compliance with the track safety improvement notices last year and the Lord Mair recommendation. As Ian said, there is a bit of a variation. We think Scotland is doing very well. However, as Ian said, there was some resource, the commitment to train drainage resource, particularly in North West and Central and Eastern, were a bit further out than we would have planned. Ian escalated concerns. We brought that back to end of CP6, which is positive. 

    Then another positive is Network Rail's delivery of its efficiencies. Last year, we report that it delivered £934 million in efficiencies against the target of £900 million. All regions have either met or exceeded their efficiency targets for the year. The last point about additional efficiency. During the pandemic, Network Rail committed to deliver an extra half a billion pounds of efficiency. The CP6 total was originally £3.5 billion and then it committed to an additional half a billion pounds. The total is £4 billion and that was to recognise the pressures of treating the pandemic. Some of that additional efficiency may be a risk, but pleased to say that it's on target for its cp6 efficiency target, which I think the additional may be at risk because of delays to reform. 

    Then the fourth point is about asset management. Network Rail overall delivered 91.3 of its planned renewal work, and a we've heard a lot about regional variation, but there was also regional variation here. So Wales and Western, and North West and Central, and Scotland, under delivered through the year. Scotland's having the largest under delivery. And there was a plethora of reasons for that. So for example, Wales and Western, a big signal project was then flipped into year five. And then in Scotland, there were errors set in the baseline and then further slippage. And then in North West and Central, for some good reasons, they didn't want to shut the railway while there were increased passenger numbers during the Commonwealth Games. 

    Asset reliability has worsened during the year. Network Rail Scotland were the only region to achieve this target. And in year five, so this is a bit of a forward look risk, Network Rail starts the control period with a pot of risk money. And we're now at the point because we're In year five, the final year of the control period, Network Rail have either used or allocated all of that risk funding. What that means is that if there are significant unfunded risks in year five, then that probably will impact the delivery of extra years. Work therefore has to be deferred or reprioritised into the next control period or beyond. So we're keeping a close eye on that. 
    And then John's already mentioned the structure examination issues. We wrote to Network Rail, advised on the plans, they fed back this week on other plans and will continue to again monitor that closely. 

    And then the last point is probably my biggest concern of the whole report. As set out, the number of trains arriving on time has fallen, cancellations have increased and on freight, we've got the lowest freight delivery metric since the time series began in 2014. Delays attributable to Network Rail have got worse across the year. That's not a good picture of performance and we need that to improve. I think Network Rail would recognise that, too. What we have done through the years, we wrote to Network Rail in November, we set out some areas, some infrastructure issues which we thought that it could improve on. Subsequently recently, because of the sustained decline in performance, it was required of all the regions to have performance improvement plans in place and we're closely monitoring the implementation of those. That includes for freight as well. We set out in the report that there are other areas that Network Rail can improve the timetable resilience, for example, and then some of the whole system elements. For example, when things are wrong, just trying to get them resolved as quick as possible to get passenger train services back on track. 

    So that's my five key points. We're just looking ahead in this year, what we're going to be focused on is probably no surprises here. This is the last year of control period six. Despite the existing challenges, I want to ensure that Network Rail exit the control period in their best possible position to enable a good start for control period seven. So to do that, we will be placing a strong focus on the commitments that it's already made in terms of performance improvements and reliability of its assets. We're going to obviously mention the structure examination issues which our asset management colleagues will continue to work with Network Rail on. And then finally, the point around delivery and spend within the last year, monitoring that Network Rail is delivering its plans and that's all I was going to cover on our annual report. As I said, it's available on our website and I'll now pass to Stephanie.

    Annual Health and Safety Report 

    Great Britain’s railways continue to perform as one of the safest in Europe. The strong collaboration and good safety performance of dutyholders involved in the very successful start-up of the Elizabeth line is to be congratulated. 
    However, the industry continues to face considerable challenges, particularly the fall in passenger revenues, rising inflation and the most significant industrial action for 30 years. The railway, both mainline, London Underground and beyond, face very real financial challenges, with planned changes to working practices to modernise how the mainline railway is delivered. There have also been some significant incidents, several caused by or linked to extreme weather. 
    Given the challenges and pressures on the industry, there will need to be a firm focus, and strong leadership, on maintaining and improving the health, safety and wellbeing of the railway’s people through it all. When well implemented, technological advances offer great opportunity to design out risk, providing risk controls higher up the hierarchy of controls - removing people from risk altogether in some cases, providing robust engineering controls in others. 

    A Year in Rail: video transcript for the annual health and safety report

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    Thanks. Anyway, I think the first thing I'd just like to say is that the railways in this country, including underground Metros, etc, are the safest they've ever been, really. And it's a testament to everyone working on the railways during these difficult times, particularly during COVID and following on from COVID, to maintain that level of safety. And that's going to be really crucial going forward because there are challenging times today. 

    This year's report, which there might be some copies left at the back, is really also looking forward because it's looking forward if we're going to really make sure we face these challenges in an effective way to maintain that level of performance that we've had. The context of the report is that there's some big issues to manage over the next 2-3 years. When there's issues around, it's only more important to refocus on things like the data. We've got workforce reform and industries financial situation that's there and needs to be managed effectively. John mentioned that in terms of modernising maintenance for example. We have seen a recovery but the drop in passengers. There's been a shift from obviously commuter to leisure, which John talked about. 

    One of the biggest things that it can impact safety and has done in the past, not just in this sector, but other sectors is the potential risk arising for major change programmes. Change creates uncertainty and it needs to be managed in a really effective way to engage those that are affected by it because we have seen in the past, not just in this sector, but in other sectors where that has led to catastrophic incidents. There are these change programmes, not just in the Mainline Railway, but also in other parts of the sector, and they should not be underestimated in terms of the challenges that they give us to actually try and maintain that performance. 

    In the report, and in my foreword, I turned to focus on three key challenges that I think the sector faces over the next few years. These challenges are opportunities as well to actually make the sector of the railway safer and more efficient as we go forward. Obviously, John and Iain talked about the mainline railway and its ambitious reform proposals to create a new guiding mind. We also got the inflationary pressures which we've not seen for a long period of time. I'm old enough to remember the 1970s and 80s, but many people are not. And the fiscal constraint Now, to help the sector, I've had a secondees in the team, Great British Railways transition team, and we will maintain that going forward. That's to help that team develop their proposed plan and take into account for safety aspects of those changes. That's very important. 

    John's talked about modernising maintenance. It's very important that we do continue to modernise the way we do things and introducing new technology that needs to be implemented safely and we need to make sure that those affected by it understand why the changes are being proposed are made and that they understand the risks and hazards that need to be managed. We have engaged at both national and local level in the Network Rail's change program and have sat in on some of the consultations that have taken place both at local and national level with the trade unions. That's not been an easy time. I've had quite a few letters from trade unions over the last year, but it has been important that we try and maintain our relationships with the whole of sector, including all the trade unions workforce. We obviously, and everyone knows this, we're seeing risks of extreme weather to both earthworks and civil structures. We need to hold Network Rail to account for delivery of the necessary changes in every region. There's quite a big programme of activities addressing the Lord Mair and RAIB recommendations. Some of those have gone faster than others. It's been some good progress in terms of some of the weather prediction, weather management in some of the regions. But there has been regional variations and it's been important.

    Lord Mair focused very much on drainage. That was an asset that had been a Cinderella asset for many years, but it's now really up there and must be maintained properly in the future and Network Rail have now promised us and shown as plans by which they will have their drainage streams in place by the end of CP 6. That's very important. 

    There are other parts of the sector that suffered quite significantly during COVID. Trams and the heritage railways in particular. Positive review, the Light Rail Safety Standards Board that we conducted, that's been a big success, I think, for that sector. Significant improvements have been made in that sector since Sandilands. In the next week, Sandilands has concluded with the final hearing for sentencing for the two companies that have pleaded guilty. But then it's still important that we continue to follow up and finish off all the recommendations from the RAIB report. We've made some real progress, I think, with the heritage sector in the last year. We saw RM3 mentioned in the short video at the beginning. We developed a cut down size version of RM3 for the heritage sector and run a number of training programs for them, which were very well attended across the country. It's important that these 200 railways that we regulate actually improve their management risk capability. We're collaborating quite extensively with the Health Heritage and Railway Association and looking with the department to see if we could create a heritage railway safety standards board as well. 

    New technology and innovation. This is really helpful going...okay. This gives us great opportunities, but also potential risks. One of the areas that we need to be really focused on is safety by design, new systems and technology, particularly safety critical software that's in train signalling systems. We've seen issues with some of this over the last few years and we're particularly focusing on this. We're increasing our capability in this area, both on cyber and on digital systems. But this is an area where there is real risk if it's not managed effectively. The change control is really important when you're dealing with software. We see some issues around that and continue to work with people like the London Undergound and Network Rail to actually improve the way this is introduced. 

    A success story was the Safety Task Force in Network Rail, really changed the dial in terms of how we do track work and the improvements that have been made in track work safety with significant reductions in near misses. There's still further to go. And Network Rail realise that. Particularly in engaging with the workforce to improve the take up of some of the technology that's now available. We've got the technology that's available to actually help protect the workers in what we now call line blocks, which is a different way. But the removal of red zone working has had a really dramatic impact, I think, on the way in which we think about how we can work on the railroads. When I do retire, there will be no more whistles, flags, and horns. 
    The other area that's moving at the pace is the weather forecasting improvements and Network Rail continue to progress these. But there are ways in which we can actually mitigate risks of these extreme weather events. They are looking at modelling and using much more sophisticated models to actually make the speed restrictions much more granular in terms of locations, so there's less disruption to the passengers in the future. I think that's very clever stuff that we need to work with them to make sure it's implemented. It's key about implementing it in an effective way. John mentioned this, remote condition monitoring is really a good way in which we can take people away from the tracks and improve their jobs and the technology is really at a pace. That's a real opportunity to improve both safety and efficiency and we continue to work with the industry in that area. 

    One of the other issues is that I've always thought we've been a bit slow in implementing our change to technology in the sector. We could be faster, I think. I think we do need to improve and develop our capability at introducing an existing systems and new technologies so that we are quicker and that we do really understand the needs for thorough and sufficient risk assessments before we get too far down the road. It's a very important area of development for the industry going forward. But great opportunity as well as risk. 

    Finally, leadership and supporting people. Our people have been through a lot over the last few years and leadership has also been through a lot. Senior leaders in the industry have been under a lot of pressure during those COVID years and within the last 12 months as well dealing with some of the industrial disputes that we've had. So focusing on maintaining, improving the health and safety and well being of the railway's people, that includes everyone, including senior managers and directors. A strong leadership is required to implement change. It's particularly important, I think, we focus on mental health during some of these periods of time as well. And that is pleasing that the industry is much further ahead than it was 10 years ago in dealing with issues like mental health. 

    We need to continue working on that, supporting people like our partners in the Samaritans, et cetera. We also need to rebuild some of the discretion invested in people to rebuild some of the discretionary effort that's needed to actually run a high performing railway. We do need to build and collaborate with the trade union colleagues in terms of health and safety reps in particular. We can add a great deal of value if engaged, early to actually do some of the changes that we would like to make. We need, as an industry, to better understand the support human performance. 

    Now, safety on the rail is really maintained day in, day out by those on the front line doing their day jobs in an effective and efficient way. It's important that we understand how their feelings and aspirations, etc, are very important and their performance is to actually our safety performance on the railway, really critical. We are looking at trying to press for change in this. John mentioned in management and fatigue, we've been advising our own guidance in this area and we're looking for Network Rail to complete their implementation of their new standard. It is important that we do focus on fatigue that recent incidents in recent years which have been associated with that. Health. We made some really good progress in the last few years on health, but there's more to do, but we mustn't lose the momentum. Network Rail is moving forward in developing state of the art professional counsellors, which I strongly support. I think it's a really good step forward to actually have a unified service because if you can show your people that you care about their health, I think they're much more likely to engage in terms of improving their overall culture and feel part of the organisations.

    I think we've missed a trick here in occupational health provision. Actually, by doing this, and then GBR coming on board as well, I think we'll be much more efficient. We've got issues around some of the long succession planning for some of the doctors, et cetera. We must gather and share common health benchmarking data. Some of this has shown that that's been done so far that this is a bigger issue than safety, much bigger issue. The impact on people in terms of health is very significant in the sector. I remember when we first tried to cost this when we did the first programme, when we did the first programme for the industry. This is costing the industry hundreds of millions of pounds a year. It's something that if we get on top of in the future will actually make us more efficient. We'll continue to engage with the whole sector. It's important that we don't leave people like the strategy sector behind and make their processes more standardized and more efficient and effective in the future. 

    Thank you very much. I'm now going to hand over to Liz McLeod. She's going to talk about Network Rail's Annual Assessment.

    Annual Consumer Report 

    Overall passenger numbers have recovered to more than 80% of pre-pandemic levels over the past year, although travel patterns have changed. This recovery is also reflected in the numbers of people booking passenger assistance and the numbers of disabled person railcards in circulation.  
    We have held operators to account for fair and transparent interactions with passengers, the quality of their passenger information, the quality of their services for disabled passengers, and the management of complaints and Delay Repay claims. We have also made good progress in taking on sponsorship of the Rail Ombudsman, in line with a Plan for Rail commitment, appointing a provider to run the new scheme which ORR will formally take over later this year. 

    A Year in Rail: video transcript for the annual rail consumer report

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    Good morning, everyone. Last but not least, obviously, I'd like to talk a little bit about our annual consumer report. Our consumer remit covers four basic areas. We look at passenger information, accessibility, complaints handling, and we also capture in that redress. Finally, issues within consumer law. 

    The first one I just wanted to talk about, is Avanti, which you will remember the Minister actually mentioned at the very start of this session. Now, Avanti faced some very challenging circumstances around about summer last year when they were struggling with driver training through shortages. And to maintain their service, they decided to reduce their timetable. Now, we had no role in that issue, but what we could see was even through that reduced timetable, they were really struggling to give good quality information to the passengers. So they ran a bad situation and in effect that poor passenger information around timetables and when to ticket, made things worse. And it was at the extent that for some journeys, passengers could only see the timetable around about 48 hours before travel. So it was a very challenging time. We immediately worked with them to devise a recovery plan so that they could get back to producing timetable information earlier. so that passengers could buy tickets. And they did very well actually, initially. And towards Christmas, things were looking particularly good. 

    As we got into the Christmas period, for a variety of reasons, that then dropped off. There was a bit of decline again in performance. We had to get more involved, really looking at what were the resources that they were allocating, what were the skill sets, how were they working with the Network Rail's system operator, who  design and allocate the timetable. We brought the system operator and Avanti together to develop again, a further plan to try and improve the information provision. This time that had a particularly good outcome. It was quite an engaging piece of work. It involved quite a lot of detailed meetings. We have meetings and reporting on a weekly basis with them to understand the progress. We also worked with them on, Well, what's your website saying that this thing is particularly difficult? You are struggling, we understand that, but are you giving as good information as you could to passengers? So ultimately, it did have a good outcome. They have resolved the staffing issues and the timetable issue has also improved. 

    The next issue, again, also referred to by John and also the Minister, is I'd like to give you an example of it is on accessibility. When we did introduce our accessible travel policies, we put a lot of effort into ensuring that staff training was front and centre of those policies. We looked at all the operators policies. We also looked at best practice. We brought in experts and we set out in our guidance on accessible travel policies, the mandated outcomes we expect from staff training. That was covered induction training and also refresher training. This was a big step forward because we've asked for refresher training every two years. What we were doing this year was reviewing that refresher training, what stage everybody was at, how they were delivering it. Broadly, we were quite happy. 

    Originally, when the induction training took place, it impacted around 30,000 staff. Again, going forward, we're looking for more staff to actually get induction, sorry to get refresher training. Some operators went well beyond our minimum requirements, and we really welcome that when industry does take that step forward. One operator did have a method of training their staff that we weren't overly pleased with, and that was TPE. It might be because at the time, they were going through the change in franchise. They have now worked with us to really implement the professional training that we find acceptable. That was a good piece of work. 

    Also on accessibility, just to use a second example. Again, John talked about the assistance that passengers get when they book assistance. A single passenger can book assistance for a journey up to two hours before the actual journey time. That's called passenger assist and it's a system run by the Rail Delivery Group. We survey passengers every year that actually acquire that assistance. This year, we got a big sample and just actually over 8,100 responses. So really big data set. Now, what's interesting from that is we can see improvement in people's overall satisfaction with the assistance they receive if it goes to plan. I think that's the important point. There is a good service there and it can be impacted by many different factors and many people do not have a good experience of that. If it works as it is designed to work, we can see a benefit and we can see a positive outcome. But when it goes wrong, then passengers can be quite severely impacted. There's more to do on that. We're already reviewing how stations communicate with each other. We have mandated through our accessible travel policy guidance, certain ways they should communicate information that should be passed on between stations to make sure that that service is delivered as planned. We're currently auditing, a number of operators to ensure that's actually happening in practice. 

    The fourth area I just wanted to mention very briefly just again as an example, is our work on the Rail Ombudsman Some of you will remember the plan for rail actually required ORR to take on sponsorship of an Ombudsman service. This is because it is better that an Ombudsman is run independent of industry. The current Ombudsman, at that time was being sponsored by the Rail Delivery Group. That's been a big process. It might sound like quite a simple thing, but there's actually quite a lot for us to take that on, particularly as a regulator. We contracted, sorry, we tended for that process and we successfully contracted with a provider and we would take over the responsibility for that in November. 

    Looking ahead at some of our key pieces of work that we want to work on in coming years. Assessing notifications then to passengers if their train times are amended or changed. This is quite an interesting one. I think a lot of passengers might have assumed that if they bought a ticket online or through an app, that's a train time change, just like most of the times we purchase, they would be informed. But that wasn't actually happening. There has been a lot of work put in the background to ensure that when somebody does buy something online, that a notification can then be sent to them either from the operator or from the ticket retailer. We're now starting to look at, well, how does that work? What are they actually receiving? Is what they're receiving clear? Is it giving them the information they need to make the change to their journey? And that is surprisingly enough, not always the case. That is quite important to us at the current time. We're doing quite a lot on that, as I speak. 

    Again, on accessibility, we're looking at the experience of disabled passengers making complaints. There's often a lot of people unhappy with their experience, but then don't follow up with a complaint. Why is that? We can all speculate what the reasons for that might be, but it's quite important. It's important for operators to understand when things go wrong. It's important for us to see what's happening. We want to understand, can we do something to make that easier, simpler, and more effective process? I mentioned our survey of passenger assistance. Because we have such a big data set this year, it is incredibly important for us to really interrogate that enough to know when it does go wrong. Is it a particular type of assistance is a particular location? How really are passengers being captured through that survey? What are they telling us, and what can they tell us to deliver  based on the comments. Again, we have a lot of data, but also a lot of verbatim comments  that we can look at. I think that will really help us then drill into some of these figures. Undoubtedly, we will get asked questions about this by the Transport Select Committee. You can see that already the evidence is being provided is really quite on the negative side. We need to really present this as, okay, there are some very difficult issues that happen and some very difficult journeys, but also there was a lot of the time, a lot of things work particularly well. We need to bring an element of balance to that perspective. 

    We're very interested in looking at station lift faults, ORR is looking at that in two parts. One, from the asset management point of view, do we know why lifts are failing? How quickly is that being resolved? But also from the passenger side, when a lift does fail, how is that communicated? Not only has it communicated, but what's the advice to passengers and what they can then do in that situation if they do need to use a lift. 

    Finally, and fortuitously, really, we decided to look at online retailing. So third party retailers, as well as train operator retailing. We were particularly interested in this because some operators, not normally TOCs, but some online retailers charge a fee. How transparent is that fee? Some of them offer incentives. Some of them offer various things that happen after you purchase the ticket that you think you're going to get a discount but actually get signed up for something you weren't expecting. So we're trying to follow through that process in detail. It is fortuitous, I think, because of the discussion again on ticket offices. If more people are being asked to purchase tickets online, how is that actually working? I feel I should highlight this on behalf of my team. It's not a comprehensive list of the work that we're doing. And often the consumer team gets pulled into issues, whether it's through letters, whether it's stakeholders, could be our passenger contact team, it could be through Twitter, and there's a constant churn of issues going on in the background. And often they're dealt with at a fast pace. But our report, similar to the other reports, is on our website. I'm equally very happy to take questions on that today. With that, I'd like to hand over to Russell, who I think is going to chair some questions.

    Annual Assessment of HS1 Ltd 

    ORR’s annual assessment of HS1 Ltd, the company responsible for managing and operating the high-speed rail link between London and the Channel Tunnel, shows HS1 has missed key targets.  

    Despite the company having made improvements since we raised concerns about asset renewals last year, it missed expectations on: workforce health and safety; lift, escalator and travelator availability; train performance; and planned asset renewals volumes.  
    ORR has been engaging with HS1 and is satisfied that, where targets have been missed, the company is taking reasonable steps to improve. ORR is calling for rapid action over the coming years to address concerns and is continuing to monitor HS1 closely.   

    National Highways Annual Assessment 

    National Highways delivered well against its financial and performance targets between April 2022 and March 2023, but we urge the company to put greater focus on efficiency and managing inflationary pressures on its enhancements in the coming year. National Highways' enhancements projects continued to experience delays and cost increases between April 2022 and March 2023, largely due to inflation, and legal challenges to schemes. It faces ongoing risks to delivery of enhancements for the remainder of the current road period.  

    National Highways met its targets for incident clearance and network availability, supporting reliable journeys and delivering a well-maintained and resilient network. The company improved its performance in notifying users of road closures, but more work is required to achieve its challenging targets set for the end of the road period. Over the reporting year, traffic levels and delays increased. The company must continue to focus on delivering in this area.  

    Top Stories

    Timetable information decision 

    On Friday, we published our decision not to approve at this time changes to modify Network Rail’s network licence requirement on timetable publication. This followed a public consultation at the end of April. See our website for the consultation outcome and related documents.

    Transport for London and Tram Operations Ltd Fined Following ORR Prosecution

    Transport for London and Tram Operations Limited were fined a total of £14m after pleading guilty to offences under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, following an ORR’s investigation and prosecution into the 2016 Croydon tram crash. Ian Prosser CBE, Chief Inspector of Railways, said: “When faced with the evidence of their failure over a number of years, both TfL and TOL accepted that they had not done everything that was reasonably practicable to ensure the safety of their passengers, with terrible consequences on the early morning of 9 November 2016. Our thoughts remain with those whose lives were so affected.”   

    West Coast Railways’ Jacobite Service

    Following a second breach in two months by West Coast Railway Company Limited of the safe working practices on the Jacobite service which are required for it to meet the conditions of its exemption to operate without central door locking, ORR has taken the decision to revoke its exemption certificate. 

    West Coast Railway Company Limited can continue to operate the Jacobite service using carriages with central door locking fitted and to use carriages without central door locking fitted on its other services in accordance with the conditions of a new exemption certificate. ORR is working with West Coast Railway Company Limited to ensure robust safety arrangements are in place to allow it to use heritage carriages on the Jacobite line in the near future.

    ORR welcomes smart motorway technology improvements and will continue to scrutinise performance

    In December 2022, ORR reported that the Stopped Vehicle Detection system on all lane running (ALR) sections of smart motorway was not meeting performance expectations. In response to the ORR’s concerns, National Highways implemented a software fix which it then tested on three ALR smart motorway schemes. Data from the three test sites show the company is meeting the performance levels that it originally specified and we have also noted that the roll-out of the upgrade to other ALR sites was completed by 14 June.


      This month we have published the following statistics: