ORR requires action by Network Rail over timetabling failures

27 July 2018

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has required Network Rail to take four actions immediately to improve services for passengers after an investigation found systemic failings in the company's general management of timetable changes. This contributed to massive disruption in May for many passengers

ORR’s investigation into Network Rail’s timetable planning capability found that Network Rail did not implement best practice in this role, evidenced by the need to rewrite the May 2018 timetable seven weeks after it sent the draft to industry in November 2017. The knock-on effect of this was that timetables could not be finalised 12 weeks in advance.

ORR opened its investigation In February 2018 into why Network Rail was unable to finalise timetables 12 weeks in advance. During that investigation, it became clear that the failings may go beyond Network Rail, which led to the need for ORR’s subsequent industry-wide timetabling Inquiry, which was announced by the Secretary of State. ORR will share the findings from the investigation with the broader Inquiry and will set out a further long-term and fundamental review of timetabling in the Autumn.

ORR’s investigation identified failings and we now require Network Rail to take specific actions to provide more assurance around the December 2018 and May 2019 timetables, to boost Network Rail’s timetabling capability and to conclude on structural reforms in Network Rail.

  • An immediate priority is the successful delivery of the December 2018 timetable, which is reliant on an effective and transparent process.

    Action: Network Rail to provide a report to ORR by 31 August demonstrating how it is running an efficient, fair, effective and transparent process in revising upcoming timetables. ORR will assess progress, and report on this.

  • The revision of the December 2018 timetable means it will take longer to recover normal timescales for notifying changes to the timetable, but it is essential to establish this process as soon as possible.

    Action: Network Rail to revise its recovery plan by 31 August to get timetables back to being agreed 12 weeks in advance (T-12) and for it to publicly report on progress.  This will include details of any late notice changes being considered and the reasons for those changes.

  • Network Rail’s timetabling resources and capability were, and continue to be, put under pressure by the increased scale of both short and long-term planning changes. Resourcing and capability of both Network Rail and industry planning teams is a risk to the delivery of future timetables.

    Action: Network Rail to accelerate progress on ORR-approved plans to strengthen timetabling capability and resources, including specific indicators against which ORR will publicly report Network Rail’s progress. Network Rail will provide a first draft to us by 17 September.

  • There needs to be better coordination between the part of Network Rail carrying out the work (Infrastructure Projects) - and its timetabling function (System Operator).    

    Action: Network Rail to speed up decisions on structural reform and provide ORR with a draft plan by 30 September.

John Larkinson, ORR’s Director, Railway Markets and Economics, said:

"Network Rail’s failings in the run up to the May timetable led to massive disruption, uncertainty and inconvenience to passengers.

"Network Rail has acted to bring the industry together to address timetabling issues but more and faster change is needed to provide assurance to passengers. That is why we have set out these actions designed to improve capability within Network Rail.

"Our ongoing broader Inquiry is looking at the role of the whole industry in the May timetabling problems and this may lead to further recommendations."

Notes to editors

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  1. Rail timetable investigation

    Decision letter.

    In February 2018, Network Rail notified industry and ORR that it was only able to deliver timetables 6 weeks in advance, rather than the required 12 weeks, as is required under Network Rail’s licence. ORR has been investigating:
    • Network Rail’s management and handling of changes to the national timetable, and we have concluded that it failed to comply with its licence requirements to:
      • run an efficient and effective process, reflecting best practice, for establishing a timetable, and any changes to it, so as to enable train and freight operators to plan their businesses with a reasonable degree of assurance and to meet their obligations to railway users; and
      • establish and maintain efficient and effective processes reflecting best practice and apply those processes so as to provide appropriate, accurate and timely information to train operators.
    • The quality of information from train companies and ticket retailers relating to timetable changes, to assess if they are complying with their licence requirement to provide appropriate, accurate and timely information to allow passengers to plan and make their journeys with a reasonable degree of assurance, including when there is disruption. This remains ongoing and we have recently written to some train companies to require them to set out timescales for further improvements to online information, specifically journey planners and ticket booking systems.
    • Network Rail's development, management and delivery of the T-12 recovery plan (ongoing)
  1. Timetabling Inquiry
    The Secretary of State for Transport announced on 4 June 2018 work to set up an inquiry by the Office of Rail and Road, chaired by Stephen Glaister, into the May 2018 timetable implementation. The Inquiry is being conducted under Section 51 of the Railways Act 2005.

    The Inquiry is taking contributions from a wide range of industry bodies and others responsible for operation of the railway and those representing the interests of passengers including Transport Focus and other rail users. Contributions are welcome to the Inquiry email address:

    The Inquiry is being conducted in addition to, and alongside, the investigation that began in February 2018 looking into the compliance of Network Rail and the train operating companies with the terms of their licences.
  2. Timetabling process
    Twice a year, in May and December, Network Rail introduces an updated baseline timetable. Throughout the year, there are minor changes to that timetable, for example to accommodate engineering works, and Network Rail is required to ensure that these amendments are finalised to timetables 12 weeks in advance. This is to allow passengers to plan and book their journey with confidence in advance.
  3. The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) is the UK’s rail regulator and strategic roads monitor for England. Follow us @railandroad.