The Office of Rail and Road’s annual assessment of Network Rail’s performance shows the Wales and Western region was able to complete upgrade and renewal work despite the pandemic. The regulator also highlights the need for improvements to track worker safety and the examination of structures, in the region.
Network Rail’s Wales and Western region showed improvement in passenger and freight train service punctuality and reliability in 2020-21, with the best freight performance nationally. This was largely due to lower passenger numbers and train service levels. However, passenger train performance on the Wales route has not seen the scale of improvement experienced elsewhere on the network. This is in part due to a number of severe weather events. While train performance has been very good, there is a clear risk that performance will drop as passengers and services return. Network Rail needs to work cross-industry to retain performance improvements where possible. Network Rail made good progress with track worker safety, eliminating the need for an unassisted lookout when working trackside in the Western route and Wales route is on target to do the same this month. However, there were still too many near miss incidents occurring. ORR is working with Network Rail to ensure they identify common factors and that learning is effectively disseminated. The regulator is concerned that across all of Network Rail’s regions, including Wales and Western, it is behind on its process for examining its structures (e.g. bridges, culverts and tunnels). These are important in understanding the condition of the asset and whether there are any faults. There is limited evidence that Network Rail has suitable plans in place or is making adequate progress towards completing its structures examinations. ORR is taking action to ensure this is rectified. ORR commends Network Rail’s response to the derailment in August 2020 of a freight train near Llangennech, Wales, which caused a major fire and spilled 330,000 litres of fuel. Network Rail demonstrated strong engagement with stakeholders immediately after the derailment, during the environmental recovery, and through the restoration of the railway. Rebecca Kent, ORR’s Senior Regulation Manager for the Wales and Western region said: “Network Rail’s Wales and Western region has responded well to the challenges posed by the pandemic, delivering projects successfully. This included completion of the first phase of the new Dawlish sea wall (a 360 metre stretch) in July 2020, the £2.2 million investment in the Conwy Valley Line to help protect it from severe weather, and the upgrade of the Dartmoor Line in preparation for reopening in autumn 2021. In the next year, the region must address the number of incidents of near misses of track workers and must also tackle the overdue examinations of structures. We will be working closely with the region to ensure this happens.”