This is a time of unprecedented uncertainty and disruption for the rail and road industries. The issues both sectors are facing have an effect on the work that we do at ORR, so it is crucial that we fully understand the challenges you are facing.
We have been providing support and advice to help mitigate some of the most serious impacts of the lockdown on industry and we will continue to be responsive to the issues emerging. We have produced a range of guidance to assist organisations in managing their operations in Covid-19. This is updated regularly and can be found on our website. We have provided advice to government on financial issues and worked with the industry on contractual issues.
We are adopting a pragmatic approach to how we regulate. Where it is not in the public interest to continue work as planned, we will change it or stop it. This month we have closed the formal study we began in January into the UK signalling market to avoid distracting the industry from focusing on current operational issues.
Of course we must still fulfil our remit of protecting the public interest through our monitoring and enforcement role, and this will continue, where required, throughout the duration of the pandemic. For example, our safety inspectors will continue inspections and serve notices on companies where necessary to protect the interests of rail workers and those using the railway.
We are also working with the Department for Transport to investigate any instances where disabled passengers have been denied accessibility assistance when they have been travelling for essential reasons during the current period.
Our overall approach to holding Network Rail and Highways England to account will flex as necessary to ensure it reflects the realities of the pandemic, but also the need for strong oversight of the large sums of money both companies spend. We will publish more on this shortly.
Competition enforcement guidance
We have temporarily changed our approach to competition enforcement in light of the Covid-19 crisis. A note of how we have changed our policy can be found in the competition guidance section on our website.
Protecting passengers’ rights
Due to Covid-19, open access operators Hull Trains and Grand Central have temporarily ceased operating services. Our consumer team has been working with them to ensure that they will still process ticket refunds, delay compensation claims and passenger complaints for their customers.
We are satisfied that both operators have put in place suitable arrangements to deal with basic customer service functions, despite the operational shutdowns. This should protect key passenger rights and obligations during this period.
Where any operator is experiencing difficulties that make adherence to regulatory requirements challenging, we will continue to respond reasonably, while ensuring that the customer interest is protected.
In February, we highlighted our research into the quality of information that passengers are given, particularly during disruption. This found that, while the industry has made improvements in recent years, more still needs to be done. The industry responded to our challenge, committing to present us with a plan by 20 April setting out the changes it will make. As a result of Covid-19, we have agreed to extend this deadline to June 2020 but, in the interim, there has still been progress. The industry has identified 15 work packages, setting out passenger benefits, resource requirements, costs, potential obstacles and governance arrangements to significantly improve the quality of information that passengers are given.
Contractors found guilty after two died
On 19 March, contractors Renown Consultants Limited were found guilty after two men died in a road traffic accident as a result of the company failing to ensure that they were sufficiently rested in order to work and travel safely.
This is the first time ORR has prosecuted in relation to failures of fatigue management. Sentencing is expected to take place in May.
ORR business plan for 2020-21
Thank you to those who attended the briefing held at our London office and online in March to discuss our proposals for the ORR 2020/21 business plan. The final plan was due to be published in April, but will now be delayed until we have had time to review the potential impact of the pandemic and what this means for our regulatory approach and business priorities.
Holding Highways England to account
Senior Policy Advisor Sarah Robinson writes about our new holding to account policy for Highways England during the second road period (2020-25), which started this month and also coincided with the government’s publication of the second Road Investment Strategy (RIS2). In the short term this will also be adapted to take account of the Covid-19 crisis.
Core Valley Lines transfer completed
Control of the Core Valley Lines network recently completed its transfer from Network Rail to Transport for Wales. In time this will mean new services, new trains and upgraded stations along the route. Nick Layt, Enhancement Projects Manager, describes the journey so far and ORR’s key role in the transfer.
This month we have published stats on: