East Anglia: Heads should roll after the latest rail delays, says angry MP Ben Gummer
17:30 11 August 2014
Engineering managers at Network Rail should pay for the latest delays with their jobs, Suffolk MP and member of the Great Eastern Rail Taskforce Ben Gummer has said.
Timeline of misery – when Network Rail failed to complete work on time
Over recent years over-running engineering works have become a familiar problem for travellers on the line to London
January 2, 2008: Tracks into Liverpool Street were due to reopen after a 10-day closure for major work over Christmas, but the engineering work seriously over-ran meaning trains could not run normally for several days. There were also problems in the Midlands and Glasgow – the ORR slapped a record £14million fine on Network Rail.
March 28, 2008: Over-running engineering work caused major delays for travellers at Shenfield.
January 4, 2010: Over-running new year work at Stratford caused problems for workers returning to the capital for the first day after the festive break.
March 30, 2012: Over-running overhead line work at Stratford meant trains were unable to reach London – sparking fears of how the network might cope during the Olympic Games.
January 14, 2013: Rush-hour trains between Shenfield and London were delayed after engineering on two of the tracks over-ran.
February 17, 2013: Early morning services were delayed after engineering work in the Shenfield area over-ran.
March 5, 2014: Over-running engineering work at Diss delayed InterCity services to the capital.
May 19, 2014: Engineering works over-running at Colchester delay passengers again – on the first weekend of a seven-week programme of work at the Essex station.
August 11, 2014: Engineering work over-runs at Ipswich station. The work was finished almost two hours late, leading to cancellations and delays. Normal service was not resumed until late morning.
Commuters heading to London for the start of another week’s work were faced with more major rush-hour disruption at Ipswich.
Network Rail weekend engineering work near the station had over-run – the NINTH time in six years that the company had been unable to complete its work on schedule on the Great Eastern Main Line.
Ipswich MP Mr Gummer said: “If this was a normal company people would have been fired by now. This just isn’t acceptable.”
He tried to contact the route director for Network Rail, but he is currently on holiday. And Mr Gummer said the Taskforce that he leads with Norwich North MP Chloe Smith would be seeking a meeting with the chief executive of Network Rail as soon as possible.
The track north of Ipswich station was closed all weekend for new signalling to be installed. The work was extended into the station area itself on Saturday evening.
Throughout the work, Network Rail engineers were in regular contact with Abellio Greater Anglia – and there was no indication of any major problems as late as 5pm on Sunday.
There were minor delays – but the engineers were confident that the time could be made up and that the work would be complete by 4.40am on Monday.
However at a conference call with Abellio Greater Anglia at 8pm on Sunday, Network Rail dropped the bombshell that they would fail to meet the deadline and could over-run by up to four hours.
The rail operator put out warnings on its website by 10pm – but the first many passengers knew of the problem was when they turned up at the station.
In the event the line reopened at 6.30am – but by then many trains were in the wrong place and it was impossible to run a normal service until late morning.
A series of meetings will look in detail at what went wrong – one possibility is that future major closures could see the line handed over at midnight rather than the early hours in bid to build in extra time if necessary.
Network Rail issued a statement about the problems which had a very familiar look to it for passengers who have been delayed by over-running engineering works before.
A spokeswoman for Network Rail said: “We are sorry for the disruption passengers faced this morning after planned improvement work in the Ipswich area over-ran by approximately 90 minutes.
“The late finish was caused by the need to move an additional 600 tonnes of earth compared with our original plan, and led to the cancellation of 18 trains and delays, on average, of five-10 minutes until mid-morning.”
Most rush-hour services between 6.30am and 9am suffered more serious disruption.
She added: “We are acutely aware of the frustration and inconvenience passengers experience when our work causes disruption rather than delivering better journeys.
“We work hard to ensure our plans are robust and that work can be completed within the time we have available, and we successfully carry out improvements across the region almost every night of the year without encountering problems.
“The work carried out this weekend was part of a £2.2bn investment to upgrade old signalling and track to deliver a better, more reliable railway for passengers in East Anglia.
“As we continue to improve the region’s railway, our focus is on working harder to ensure our work is delivered on time, every time. That is what passengers deserve and expect.”