ORR lays out timetable recommendations to improve service for passengers

7 December 2018

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR), chaired by Stephen Glaister, has today published its recommendations for preventing a repeat of the May 2018 rail timetable failure, alongside a draft Final Order requiring that Network Rail improves its timetabling process.

Reporting on Phase 1 of its independent Timetable Inquiry in the May failure, published on 20 September, ORR found that the difficulties endured by passengers were the result of poor communication within the industry, a perception that no one was in overall control of decision-making and a failure to put passengers at the heart of decision-making.

In its Phase 2 final report, the ORR is today recommending that the interests of passengers are put at the heart of key decisions for major rail projects, and that the industry works together to improve how information is provided to passengers. ORR is also setting out how this can be achieved.

To strengthen decision-making, the ORR’s range of actions include requiring Network Rail’s System Operator to publish a plan by 1 April 2019 explaining how it will lead a review of Part D of the Network Code - which creates the slots for new services into the timetable. This will include consideration of whether Part D should explicitly set out go/no go decision points.

Other major recommendations include:

  • Clearer scope for industry boards to oversee major network change. This will ensure greater scrutiny of the interdependencies involving new timetables, infrastructure, rolling stock and franchises.
  • New independent, system-wide advice and auditing to be introduced as soon as possible for major network changes, to spot and address problems before they affect passengers.
  • Addressing ‘optimism bias’ by learning from the examples of best practice in other sectors in delivering major projects on time and to budget.

In addition, actions for the ORR itself include:

  • Monitoring the Network Rail System Operator’s performance in delivering commitments made in CP6 – the industry’s strategic plan for 2019-2024.
  • Continuing enhanced monitoring of the risks to future timetables, while the industry strengthens its own capability in response to these actions and recommendations.

In the longer term, the Williams Review will look into what more fundamental changes are required.

The recommendations are in response to Phase 1 of the Inquiry. Phase 1 looked into the causes of the 20 May timetable breakdown and reported that the Department for Transport, Network Rail, Govia Thameslink Railway, Northern and the ORR made mistakes, which led to the collapse of services causing misery to passengers.

It found gaps in accountability for managing systemic risks, as well as failures to take sufficient action to deal with growing problems or raise the alarm about the risk of disruption.

ORR and Inquiry Chairman, Professor Stephen Glaister said:

"Passengers were let down by the rail industry on 20 May and the weeks that followed. We found systemic failures that needed to be resolved in order to reduce the possibility that passengers have to endure these conditions again. Our recommendations will now mean that in every project, impact on passengers will be a central consideration – as it should always be.

"We are pleased with the improvements that have been made so far and expect our recommendations, which can be implemented immediately, to bring more benefits.

"More fundamental changes are needed in the longer term, which is the subject of the Williams Review. The ORR will contribute to that Review."

In addition to the Timetable Inquiry, on 27 July, ORR wrote to Network Rail explaining that it was in breach of its network licence and requiring it to immediately take four actions to improve its ability to develop the timetable.

Network Rail has met these actions, with the result that the timetable process has been improved and there is more capability within Network Rail to manage the development of the timetable.

However, we expect greater improvement. Therefore, we are today issuing Network Rail with a draft Final Order requiring the company to take further steps to improve the timetabling process. The four new actions include a requirement that they set out, by 1 April 2019, how they will embed changes made over the past six months and how they will report on the ongoing delivery of capability improvements.

This order also formalises the requirement to lead a review of Part D of the Network Code as set out in the Phase 2 inquiry recommendations.

Notes to editors

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  1. Links to documents: Independent Inquiry into the timetable disruption in May 2018 and Prior role review.
    The Inquiry has received responses from a wide range of people and organisations, reviewed over 2,000 documents and interviewed dozens of senior executives in the rail industry.
  2. The ORR launched the Timetable Inquiry on 13 June 2018.
  3. Background on planned changes: GTR was planning to run 3,880 trains a day after the timetable change. In the event around 270 a day did not run at all and weekly delay minutes rose from  a little over 10,000 to over 30,000. Northern failed to run 125 trains of a planned 2,510 services and its delay minutes soared from under 15,000 to close to 50,000.
  4. July 27 press release: ORR requires action by Network Rail over timetabling failures.
  5. In October ORR opened an investigation into GTR and Northern’s provision of passenger information.
  6. The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) is the UK’s rail regulator and strategic roads monitor for England. Follow us @railandroad.