Yesterday the Office of Rail and Road published the results of its investigation to the major disruption at London Bridge in January of this year. In a damning report, it found Network Rail breached the terms of its licence and issued it with a fine of £2m.
A positive move by a tough regulator? Good news for passengers? Think again.
From Network Rail's perspective, £2m on a multi-billion pound development is a drop in the ocean.
In fact, the fine is unlikely to exceed the compensation already paid out by Network Rail to train operators for the disruption. Network Rail pays all train operators if they are at fault for delays of five minutes or more. This accounts for 60 per cent of all train delays.
Train operators only pass that compensation on to passengers when delays exceed 30 minutes – or in some cases 60 minutes – and only 12 per cent of passengers claim compensation.
So Network Rail isn't going to be fazed by a small fine, while operators enjoy a boost to the bottom line from compensation. There is no suggestion passengers will benefit financially.
But what is even more concerning for passengers is that the report exposes the inability of a fragmented industry to get the basics right.
Network Rail was unable to work effectively with the train operators to agree a working timetable. The timetable that went live on January 5th simply scheduled too many trains for the number of platforms available.
Claire Perry, the rail minister, recently called for a radical overhaul of passenger compensation. These measures need to be broadened to cover the compensation mechanism between Network Rail and train operators and radically change the approach to timetable modelling and allocation of track space to operators.
In the current system, operators are incentivised to manage arrival times to a window of between five and 30 minutes, and design timetables that cause chaos for passengers – with little consequence.
We must ensure Network Rail and train operators are incentivised to work together effectively to improve train performance for passengers.