Network Rail told to spend £1bn to replace old assets

The UK’s rail regulator has called on Network Rail to allocate £1 billion “of additional renewals work to replace worn out assets” to “improve reliability and boost safety.”

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has set out its initial view of Network Rail’s five year plans to spend more than £34 billion — £30 billion in England and Wales and £4 billion in Scotland — to 2024.

“Railway performance has failed many passengers in recent months,” said the ORR.

“Strong planning is central to improving Network Rail’s performance and therefore the service passengers receive.

“Network Rail’s route-based plans are better than the plans for the previous five years and provide a foundation for improvement which passengers and freight customers rightly demand.

“In its assessment of the five year plans ORR has identified greater scope for Network Rail to do more than it proposed to boost reliability and safety, for the benefit of both passengers and freight customers.”

In its report, ORR said Network Rail should amend its plans to:

  • Deliver around £1 billion of additional renewals work to replace worn out assets, funded through changes including greater efficiency and other savings. This will bring the total renewals budget to £18 billion across Britain.
  • Include an extra £80 million for additional safety-related expenditure. This will include spending on level crossings and worker safety initiatives.
  • Reallocate £0.9 billion of the £1.7 billion England & Wales funding, currently held centrally to manage financial risks to Network Rail’s routes so that they can develop their own plans to spend this money efficiently.

“The entire rail industry, including passengers, freight customers and train operators, relies on Network Rail to deliver a high-quality service,” said ORR CEO Joanna Whittington.

“ORR’s initial assessment of Network Rail’s five year plans shows that the transition from a centrally run company to one structured round eight geographic routes has improved the quality of the plans but we want to see £1bn more spent on renewing the railway to improve reliability and boost safety.

“ORR will be monitoring and enforcing delivery by each of the routes, so that passengers and freight customers will be able to rely on the railway for the essential service it provides.”

The ORR added: “To reflect the increased responsibility of route teams, ORR is restructuring Network Rail’s licence to make routes more accountable for their plans.

“ORR will monitor and hold to account each route as well as the new System Operator, which will focus on system planning and timetabling …

“ORR will publish its final determination at the end of October.”