Office of Rail and Road March 2024 newsletter

1 March 2024
Feras Alshaker
Feras Alshaker
Director, Planning and Performance, ORR
Cover Image
Station concourse

Hello and welcome to the March newsletter. 

I wanted to update you on the progress of our latest rail and road investigations.  

In November, ORR launched an investigation into train performance in Network Rail’s Wales and Western region, which had continued to deteriorate while the wider rail network across Great Britain was seeing performance stabilise.  

When launching the investigation, we noted we would also be holding a roundtable of parties who directly contribute to delivering train performance in the region. That meeting took place this month in Bristol with 18 representatives attending from Network Rail, train operators, freight operators and Transport for London.  The event helped to highlight areas where further action and cross-industry collaboration could lead to improvements in train performance.    

As well as staging the industry roundtable, we have requested over 150 pieces of evidence from Network Rail and other key bodies for the investigation. The ORR team will continue to meet regularly with Network Rail to further our understanding of how the company has been managing the Wales and Western rail infrastructure and train performance.  

We expect to have interim findings to the investigation by late Spring, and I thank those involved for their patience and understanding as we work through considerable amounts of data and information to form our conclusions. 

In February, we also announced our decision to investigate the performance of National Highways. While this company has generally delivered well for road users, in recent months at ORR we have become concerned over performance and recurring issues in a number of areas. In our July 2023 annual assessment of the organisation, we identified various risks, such as delivery of National Highways’ capital portfolio and asset management strategy. Those risks have since materialised, and performance has dipped across several areas.  

Our investigation will look at the causes of National Highways’ dip in performance, and whether the company has the processes in place to deliver its agreed commitments by the end of the road period, in March 2025. We expect this work to inform the appropriateness of National Highways’ third road period performance commitments and to support the setting of challenging and deliverable targets for the company going forward.

Feras Alshaker 
Director, Planning and Performance 

Top stories

ORR authorises upgrades at Reading West station ahead of opening

We have authorised upgrades at Reading West railway station, which include a new station building featuring ticket facilities, updated signage, lighting, and comprehensive CCTV coverage. This approval signifies compliance with standards covering health and safety, accessibility, environmental protection, technical compatibility, and reliability and availability. We worked with Great Western Railway from the outset of the project to guide them through the authorisation process, ensuring that important checks and surveys are carried out.

Steve Fletcher, Deputy Director for Civil Engineering and Asset Management at ORR, said:  

“We’re pleased to have played our part in getting Reading West’s upgrades ready to open. Our team worked alongside Great Western Railway to advise them on the authorisation process, just as we do for all new trains and infrastructure across the country.”

ORR attends Rail Partners 2024 George Bradshaw Address as Government publishes Rail Reform Bill 

We were pleased to see the publication of the government’s new Rail Reform Bill on 20 February. The announcement coincided with this year’s George Bradshaw Address, at which our CEO, John Larkinson and Director of Railway Safety, Richard Hines were in attendance.  

The bill amends the Railways Act 1993, allowing for the creation of a new integrated rail body (IRB) that will act as both the franchising authority and infrastructure manager. The Government intends for Network Rail Infrastructure Limited (NRIL) to be the new entity. The bill introduces a new duty for ORR to consider access policy statements from the IRB, which must be balanced with other responsibilities. The draft bill is now headed for pre-legislative scrutiny by the House of Commons Transport Select Committee.  

ORR inspires Glasgow schoolchildren

Staff from our Glasgow office attended a careers fayre in a local school on Thursday 15 February. They were there alongside colleagues from the Cabinet Office and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to help raise awareness of opportunities across the Civil Service. Lynne Holmes, Directorate Support Manager, said: "We all found it worthwhile and enjoyable. The school and children definitely seemed to be grateful for everyone’s involvement."  

ORR welcomes Access Aspiration for Business Insights Day 

Also on Thursday 15 February, we welcomed 25 students from disadvantaged backgrounds into the ORR office at Cabot Square for a Business Insights Day in partnership with Access Aspiration, part of the Mayor’s Fund for London. Access Aspiration work with 16-18-year-olds from low-income and underrepresented backgrounds who are making key decisions about their future but struggling to link with employers. The aim was to introduce ORR, the civil service, and the rail and road sectors to help participants understand what it is like to work here, support informed decision-making, and offer experiences to talk about in personal statements, CV’s and applications as they move forward with their careers.  

In line with our focus on supporting social mobility, we have previously run two similar events, but this was the biggest so far, with overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants. We will continue to work closely with Access Aspiration and will offer another Business Insights Day later this year, as well as looking to offer our first work experience through Access Aspiration in the October half-term. 

ORR launches strategic risk chapters review

ORR's Railway Safety Directorate is in the process of reviewing the approach to communicating our railway risk priorities. We're inviting people working in the rail industry to complete a short survey about our strategic risk chapters. The input will help ensure our guidance supports the user in achieving excellence in health and safety management and risk control. The survey should take 5 to 10 minutes to complete and closes on Wednesday 6 March 2024.


ORR’s 2023 Authorisations wrapped

To mark National Apprenticeship Week, three of our apprentices shared their experiences of their time at ORR. Hear from Ellie Terry-Jenkins, Inspector Assistant – Trainee, Tom Hague, Central Support Team Administrator Apprentice, David Ospina, Security and Compliance Apprentice.


The Rail and Road Pod Episode 22: Rail Passenger Experience - targeting improvements

Part of our focus at ORR is monitoring industry performance and holding operators to account for the experience they offer for their passengers.

In this podcast Jacqui Russell, the head of our Consumer team, and Matt Westlake, who leads on accessibility matters, both provide an insight into the recent work of their team who review the many aspects of the rail passenger experience. They also look ahead to a busy 2024.

And Dr. Ralitsa Hiteva talks about the value of her involvement with ORR's Consumer Expert Panel.

Find out more about our Consumer work and listen to our previous podcast, Authorisations - giving the green light, on our website.


In February we released the following statistics: