Network Rail fined record £14m

NETWORK Rail was today fined a record £14 million following serious engineering work hold-ups over the New Year. Suffolk commuters faced cancellations and severe delays when Network Rail's engineering works overran, leading to the temporary closure of Liverpool Street station.

Tom Potter

NETWORK Rail was today fined a record £14 million following serious engineering work hold-ups over the New Year.

Suffolk commuters faced cancellations and severe delays when Network Rail's engineering works overran, leading to the temporary closure of Liverpool Street station.

Many were stuck for hours and some could not even travel at all on the first day back at work after the Christmas break.

The fine was imposed on the Rail infrastructure company by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) which had been investigating the setbacks.

The decision comes on the day that Network Rail chairman Sir Ian McAllister, who stayed at home during the overrun crisis, is officially knighted at Buckingham Palace.

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The ORR said: "The fine reflects the serious nature of this breach, the impact it had already had on passengers and rail freight users and the need for the company to take urgent action to improve its approach".

Today Chris Mole, MP for Ipswich said: “I welcome the fact that the ORR is taking seriously their expectations of Network Rail. The excuses given by them over the New Year were not good enough and though I had limited feedback from rail travellers, I remember one unlucky constituent's journey home taking 14 hours.

“I'm sure that Ian McAllister's knighthood is recognition of the contribution he has made to the company in his time there.”

The ORR also ordered Network Rail to remedy systematic weaknesses in its planning and management of engineering projects and in its communication with train operators about progress with such projects.

Bill Emery, ORR chief executive, said: “It is right that we should also impose a fine to mark the seriousness of this breach of NR's licence and to send a clear message to the company's board and senior management that it needs to address the weaknesses we have identified as a matter of urgency.”

Politicians and transport unions have criticised the fining system, arguing that the not-for-dividend, no-shareholders NR is effectively a public company and therefore taxpayers end up paying the fine.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of rail watchdog Passenger Focus, said: “Simply fining Network Rail potentially hits passengers twice. Passengers suffered the original disruption and then a large amount of investment cash will be lost to the rail industry which could mean poor quality services in the future.”

Passenger Focus added that they will closely watch progress over the next few months.

Do you think the company should have been fined? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or email eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk