Events of 2018 have proven to be the final straw for Network Rail in its current shape. After seven years of consecutive bad performance, with poor punctuality, timetabling chaos and strike action causing passenger satisfaction of rail services to plummet to a 10-year low, chief executive Andrew Haines announced a major reorganisation of the infrastructure manager in February.
His message was clear: we cannot wait for Keith Williams’ Rail Review to tell us how to do our jobs, we must put passengers and freight users first now. From his broad experience of the rail industry, Andrew is all too aware that the industry’s success is intrinsically linked to that of Network Rail.
His resolve to make Network Rail into a more customer-focused organisation was echoed by Keith Williams, who shared some of his preliminary thoughts at the annual George Bradshaw Address a fortnight later. Talk about beating him to the punch.
Coincidentally, 2008 – when Transport Focus’ National Rail Passenger Survey last recorded an overall satisfaction score lower than that registered in the 2018 autumn report – also marked the same year in which Andrew departed the rail sector. Perhaps his return will now result in an uplift in passenger satisfaction?
In early March, it was great to hear first-hand from Andrew exactly how he plans to turn Network Rail’s performance around. It won’t be easy, but with fundamental changes being announced just months into his reign – with Keith Williams in the rearguard – there is a sense that we’re reaching a turning point.
As we go to press, the same cannot be said for Brexit. With the prospect of leaving the EU on March 29 without a deal becoming more likely by the day, plans are still being ironed out for cross-border rail services. In a letter dated February 19, Chris Grayling said the government was still actively engaging with European counterparts to “secure bilateral arrangements for cross-border rail services”.
Hopefully the government has learned from the embarrassment surrounding the award of contracts to provide additional freight capacity in the event of a no deal Brexit, which has seen it reach a £33 million out-of-court settlement with Eurotunnel after excluding it from plans.
Fortunately, the Swanage Railway was on hand to provide a lighter moment in the fiasco on Twitter: “Can someone tell us how we can apply for our compensation for not being offered the chance to provide rail and ferry services? After all we do have locomotives and Paul our Ops Manager has been to France on his holidays once.”
With major announcements following major announcements, coupled with a number of significant events, the past month has been a jam-packed one. Despite this, among all of the talking, train transfers and transcriptions, we’ve squeezed in time to launch a refreshed website. It’s not quite as major as Network Rail’s reorganisation but, if you get the chance, drop me a message and let me know what you think.