Just what is happening at Network Rail? The company has had a significant amount of experience of major engineering operations and working with train operators to ensure that robust train plans are in place before, during and after the works. It doesn’t always go to plan and I have first-hand experience of the effects of the engineering over-run at Rugby on the West Coast Main Line in December 2008. Lessons should have been learned. They probably were, but are those people who learned the lessons and acted on them still in the industry?
A wider question is does Network Rail really understand its assets?
So come December 27th 2014, the first day after a two day shutdown for much of the railway, we had overrunning work at King’s Cross preventing access to the station and across London there were also problems with overrunning works on the Great Western Main Line preventing access to Paddington station.
For King’s Cross the contingency plans, focused on Finsbury Park did not work and at one stage the station had to be closed. Now a week later we hear there have been post-engineering work problems at London Bridge and apparently an admission that on the Great Western Main Line the work is causing “a disproportionate impact on passengers”. The BBC reports that the comment was made in a letter from Network Rail Route Managing Director Patrick Hallgate MP Rob Wilson.
Mr Hallgate cited Crossrail and re-signalling works for the disruption. He said future problems were inevitable due to the complex nature of the work being undertaken but added additional mitigation measures were being explored, including extra vigilance when working around high risk cables. Mr Hallgate also said there was added emphasis on ensuring those caught up in future disruptions would be provided with adequate information, which Network Rail is working on in conjunction with operator First Great Western.
Angry commuters took to Twitter to vent their feelings after hours of delays in October The resignalling works east of Reading are due to be completed at Easter, he added.
But on top of this Network Rail and train operator Southern have been forced to apologise to passengers using London Bridge station. Their statement is reproduced in full.
Network Rail and Southern apologise for the unacceptable disruption and delays to passengers at London Bridge this week resulting in severe overcrowding on the concourse. This is not the level of service that customers deserve, expect or that we want to deliver.
Over the festive break we undertook 16 days of work rebuilding two new platforms, removing and replacing 3km of track and installing new signalling into London Bridge. This work was completed on time.
However, the new timetable has proved challenging to manage. We have reviewed this and made some immediate changes to a small number of evening peak services which will reduce the pressure on the infrastructure and allow us to deliver a more punctual service that passengers deserve.
We will monitor the service this week and assess if any longer term changes are required.
We have reviewed the operation of the station concourse, placed more staff at London Bridge, and implemented additional crowd control measures to separate passengers entering and exiting trains. By the end of the week, we will have additional passenger information screens, so the concourse is used more evenly.
Passengers are asked to check with their train operator before they travel.
Network Rail needs to get a grip and ensure that it can do the work it plans. Yes, there will be occasions when things go wrong and an overrun occurs but that should be the exception rather than the norm.
Steven Knight is a Transport Specialist who has over 40 years experience in the bus and rail industries as well as in specialist transport journalism. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists.