Network Rail is told to prune its spending plans

 
Marion Dakers
BRITAIN’S trains watchdog has told Network Rail to shave £2bn off its spending plan for the next five years and toughen up on punctuality.

The Office of Rail Regulation thinks the railway owner can improve the network and spend £21.4bn on day-to-day running costs without compromising on safety – around £2bn less than Network Rail had set out in its plan in January.

The ORR also wants nine out of 10 trains on all routes to run on time, with fines imposed if the average punctuality rate is less than 92.5 per cent by 2019.

“Fining them is literally the last thing we want to do,” ORR chief executive Richard Price told City A.M. “We will be needling them throughout the period… to make sure they do everything they can to improve punctuality.”

Network Rail has failed to meet time targets for two years, a shortcoming that prompted West Coast operator Virgin Trains to complain last week that it has breached its contract. More than two-thirds of delays stem from Network Rail infrastructure, it claimed.

The ORR will continue monitoring Network Rail’s debt pile, which currently stands at £30.1bn, to ensure it does not rise above a 75 per cent debt-to-asset ratio.

Network Rail said yesterday it will consider the ORR’s report and respond formally in September.

Providing the pair both agree to the spending plans, they will come into effect from April 2014.