Office of Rail and Road Update - June 2020

28 May 2020

On 18 May the rail industry successfully delivered an increase in timetabled services. That change has gone well, reflecting the substantial effort by the industry to put this in place. ORR supported this by working with the industry on the principles for managing health and safety risks, so that the railway is better able to cope safely with more passengers. Our work on this continues, noting the further step-ups in the timetable planned for the summer.

As we emerge from lockdown, we need to strike the right balance between ensuring that the companies we oversee can continue to respond to the crisis, while at the same time we can hold them to account for delivering their commitments to their customers and funders during this period. This month we wrote separately to Network Rail and to train operators on how we will be doing this.

We will also be writing to HS1 and Highways England on this shortly.

John Larkinson
Chief Executive

Top stories

Passenger information during the pandemic

As highlighted above, on 18 May there was a ramp up in the number of passenger services in the timetable. This was a change from what were largely Sunday service frequencies (as put in place in late March), to broadly Saturday service frequencies, with some additional peak time trains for key workers.

With train operator websites having carried ‘special timetable’ messages since March 2020, we were concerned that ‘banner fatigue’ might mean that passengers were unable to spot that there had been a further significant change. Our two questions for train operators were simple: are your times changing and how would passengers know?

In the week before the changes, we conducted daily checks of train operator websites, looking to see if the May timetable was clearly mentioned. We circulated these results to all train operators each day and this enabled them to make changes to their websites where they were not following the best practices seen elsewhere. Over the period of the daily checks we were pleased to have good engagement with operators and to see improvements to websites implemented. We expect that this will allow train operators to plan what is required when train frequencies are increased again later in the summer.

More on our work to help passengers during the pandemic is set out in our recent consumer blog by Deputy Director Stephanie Tobyn.

Restarting research work paused at the beginning of the pandemic

We are now restarting two pieces of work that we paused in March due to Covid-19. This is important because they will help inform the future development of the rail industry, including in the recovery period post-crisis.

We will shortly be seeking stakeholders’ views about how Network Rail’s regions and other business units have engaged with them, focusing in particular on the development of its year 2 Business Plans. It will take the form of an online survey or telephone interview with our consultants, Savanta:ComRes. The results will inform our assessment of the quality of Network Rail’s stakeholder engagement during the first year of CP6. This will, in turn, support the development of new Network Rail business plans. We expect to publish the results later this summer.

We are also carrying out a review of train performance incentives, examining how different mechanisms affect train punctuality and reliability. This project will help to shape future regulatory changes in any new industry structure. Transport consultants Systra spoke with Network Rail, train operators and other organisations earlier in the year to get their insights in this area. We are now completing the research.

We recognise this remains a challenging time for many of our stakeholders so we will take a proportionate approach to getting stakeholder input. And we fully appreciate that some may not be able to take part.

Contractor fined for fatigue management failure

Renown Consultants Limited has been fined £450,000, with £300,000 costs, after being convicted under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 for failing to ensure that two of its workers were sufficiently rested to work and travel safely. This is the first time the ORR has prosecuted in relation to failures of fatigue management.

ORR publishes final report on leasing market competition remedies

We have published the final report outlining our view that there is insufficient justification for recommending the CMA undertake a review of remedies put in place by the Competition Commission in 2009 to address issues in the rolling stock market.

Board effectiveness review

We appointed Campbell Tickell in November 2019 to conduct an effectiveness review of the ORR Board. The findings are published on our website. The review gave strong assurance on the Board’s effectiveness and governance and provided positive stakeholder feedback on the Board’s work. The review made a small number of suggestions to further enhance the existing governance procedure and these are in-hand.


Covid -19: How ORR is playing its part to keep Britain’s railways moving

John Larkinson shares how the ORR have been working closely with the rail industry, government and passenger groups so rail staff can safely maintain and operate a reliable railway for people making essential journeys and for freight.

We’re all in this together, being kind can help reduce the mental health taboo

Chief Inspector of Railways Ian Prosser writes about the importance of looking after mental health through the pandemic

Adapting to working-life during COVID-19

Sarah Cairns, Principal Railway Inspector, describes how she has adapted her working life in response to Covid-19

Statistical releases

This month we have published stats on: