Industry needs to accept ‘greater realism’ on rail performance

Andrew Haines: Network Rail chief executive

 

Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines has set out plans to provide government and passenger groups with “more honest and sophisticated” choices on how to restore punctuality to an acceptable level.

Reflecting on seven years of declining performance and the industry’s “100% record of failure” to deliver planned improvements in punctuality during that time, Haines said greater realism is needed on the performance the network can sustain with increasingly intensive trains services and growing patronage.

One of the issues has been we have collectively as a system promised people that they can have more trains, longer trains, better performance and cheaper franchises and you can’t. You get to a point where you can’t have all those things.

“One of the issues has been we have collectively as a system promised people that they can have more trains, longer trains, better performance and cheaper franchises and you can’t. You get to a point where you can’t have all those things,” he said. He saw one of his key tasks as being “absolutely relentless in offering people choices and solutions to show what [level of performance] you can have” what they would entail and what they would cost.

For example, Haines said that it was possible for even the most intensively used parts of the railway to deliver world class punctuality at present on relatively quiet days with benign weather. However, the fragility of the service meant that to do so all day every day would require a more resilient timetable, more resilient infrastructure, more reliable rolling stock and much more robust crewing. “All that comes at a price,” Haines said, “so we have got to be much more honest and sophisticated about saying what are the choices we are making here.”

In offering politicians and passengers an accurate assessment of the performance improvements different choices and investments would provide, Haines said it would be crucial for Network Rail to improve its data analytics which he described as “in the dark ages compared to the vast majority of businesses”.

While the government has provided funding for Network Rail to modernise its analytical tools over the next five years, Haines also considered that the industry remains too focused on reducing asset failures compared to improving operational resilience.

“The cost of getting an asset that never fails is hideously expensive … and it would take my lifetime to do it,” he said. “What we need is better performing assets and a railway that can cope with occasional failures.”

Full coverage appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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