‘Scotland freight performance good, rest of report card below par’
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR), the autonomous government safety and performance watchdog, has assessed Network Rail Scotland as part of a nationwide review. The annual report card is not good reading for the parents, which in this case are now the Scottish government. The report shows train service performance was mixed and its annual efficiency target was missed.
ORR, which exists in that twilight zone between government and independent body, has nevertheless emerged from the shadows to cast a harsh spotlight on railway infrastructure operations in Scotland. Network Rail Scotland, which itself treads a thin line between its UK government parent and its working relationship with the devolved Scottish administration in Edinburgh, has failed to get a glowing report on its performance for the year ended in March 2022.
The Office of Rail and Road has published its annual assessment of Network Rail Scotland, and it shows it has been a challenging year for the region with missed efficiency targets and mixed train service performance. Must do better might be the headmaster’s comments.
Performance in reverse
In the report, the rail regulator raises concerns about Network Rail Scotland’s delivery of efficiencies. The region missed its efficiency target for the year, delivering around 64 million pounds (76 million euro) of efficiencies against a target of 82 million pounds (98 million euro), representing a 21 per cent shortfall. In comparison, most of Network Rail’s other regions in Great Britain exceeded their efficiency targets for the year. “Network Rail Scotland also needs to do more to demonstrate its preparedness to deliver its efficiency target over the next two years”, says the report. “ORR will continue to keep this issue under close review.”
Network Rail Scotland has, by the measures of the assessment, been in reverse. ORR’s report shows train service performance declined from the high levels seen in the previous year, with tiger infrastructure agency missing its target for the main passenger operator, ScotRail. At the time, ScotRail was still under the management of Dutch company Abellio, prior to the franchise being brought in-house by the Scottish government, which now runs it as a public service body.
Best of a bad bunch
There is good news on the freight front however. In Scotland the agency delivered the best freight performance of all Network Rail’s regions, improving significantly from the previous year. Freight growth targets were also met. That’s in-line with government mandated policy to significantly increase rail freight traffic in Scotland, particularly cross-border intermodal, with a view to reducing costs, road traffic and climate emissions. That has been encouraging for campaigners, who want to see increased cross-border capacity to relieve the busy West Coast Main Line.
“Network Rail Scotland achieved its freight performance target, delivering the best freight performance of all Network Rail’s regions and improving significantly from the previous year, when it was the worst performing region”, says the report. “Network Rail Scotland underdelivered on engineering works during the year. It delivered 87 per cent of its planned renewals volumes, performing worse than other regions. The region’s asset reliability was below its target but was the highest score of any region.”
“Overall, it was a challenging year for the region”, said Jennifer Cullen, ORR’s Senior Regulation Manager for Scotland. “We continue to work closely with Network Rail Scotland to identify areas of concern and ensure these are addressed to deliver improved outcomes for both passengers and freight operators in Scotland. In response to poor train service performance, Network Rail Scotland and ScotRail have already established a joint performance improvement plan including targeted interventions that, if delivered, should result in a more resilient railway. We are closely monitoring delivery of this plan.”
On matters of safety, the ORR says that Network Rail Scotland has progressed action plans linked to recommendations made following the fatal derailment at Carmont, in Aberdeenshire, in 2020. “ORR highlights that continued focus is needed on implementing those recommendations and that it is following this up with the region”, says the report. “Network Rail Scotland underdelivered on some of its engineering works during the year, delivering just 87 per cent of its planned asset renewals. ORR is also pressing the region to reduce its backlog of structures and earthworks examinations. It was deficiencies in the latter that were blamed in part for the accident which derailed a passenger express and claimed three lives.
“The railway network needs to be run for the benefit of the whole country”, adds the ORR. “We regulate Network Rail, holding it to account for delivering high levels of performance and service, as well as good value for money – for passengers, the freight industry and taxpayers.”