Press releases

Passengers must be at heart of rail planning

12 February 2015

Content archived on 04 December 2022

Archive date
02 July 2021

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) launched an investigation after more than 115,000 passengers were affected by overrunning engineering works when travelling into or out of King's Cross and Paddington stations between 27 and 28 December 2014. ORR's investigation was aimed at learning lessons with a view to preventing similar disruption happening again. It was informed by direct feedback from passengers, evidence from Passenger Focus, London TravelWatch, Network Rail, and all of the affected train operators.

Network Rail delivered more than 98% of the complex engineering works planned for the Christmas and New Year period on time. However, ORR's detailed analysis showed that there were significant weaknesses in the planning and oversight of the King's Cross and Paddington works, and how communication was managed when overruns occurred. The plans failed to put the impact on passengers at the centre of decision making, and this meant the service passengers received during the course of disruption was not acceptable and led to widespread confusion, frustration, discomfort and anxiety.

Network Rail needs to continue undertaking large-scale engineering projects in order to renew and enhance Britain's railways. The effective planning, management and communication of this work is essential to the delivery of a safe and reliable railway. ORR is setting out requirements that ensure Network Rail, working with train operators, develops clear contingency plans which help passengers if works overrun, and that if needed, the plans are implemented in a timely and effective way:

  • Improved planning for potential overruns of engineering works. Passengers' needs, welfare and safety at a time of disruption must be at the heart of Network Rail's and train operators' contingency arrangements. 
  • Effective oversight of engineering work possessions and communications. Network Rail should ensure the key decision points for continuing with critical stages of planned works, and implementation of contingency plans are understood by all parties involved. 
  • Network Rail with support from train operators should review arrangements for managing the control of an overrun incident, with a command structure covering all elements of an incident including train planning, station management and communication with passengers. 
  • The impact of an overrun on passengers can in some part be mitigated by accurate and timely information. The industry now has plans in place to further improve passenger information. The train operator plans, including dates for delivery, need to be published so that passengers can be confident that change will be delivered and ORR can monitor against them. 

Network Rail is reviewing all contingency plans for works scheduled over Easter and the May 2015 bank holidays. ORR expects Network Rail to have implemented all the recommendations, including those which require work with train operators, in advance of the Christmas 2015 engineering works. The regulator will audit their implementation to make sure the improvements are all in place.

Joanna Whittington, ORR's director railway markets and economics and the investigation lead, said:

"Network Rail has rightly acknowledged it didn't do enough for passengers affected by overrunning engineering works at King's Cross and Paddington this Christmas. While the company generally has a good record for delivering engineering work on time, in this instance passengers were really let down.
"Our investigation found that contingency planning did not fully consider the impact of potential overruns on passengers and that this needs to change. In future, plans will address the impact on passengers as well as engineering and train operation issues. Network Rail cannot achieve this alone, train operators will also need to play their part.
"Network Rail has committed to ensuring all work undertaken this Easter has a contingency plan which is fit for purpose, and to implement all recommendations in time for engineering works planned over Christmas 2015. ORR will audit its progress, to ensure that passengers' needs and safety are central to Network Rail's and train operator contingency arrangements."

Notes to editors