NETWORK RAIL breached its licence in failure to deliver May timetables to normal industry deadlines, the Office of Rail and Road has ruled.

ORR’s investigation was launched in February after it was revealed NR would not produce timetables 12 weeks in advance of the change (T-12). The investigation is separate to the inquiry headed by ORR Chair Stephen Glaister into the disruption that occurred following the 20 May timetable change itself. ORR says it will share the findings from the T-12 investigation with the broader inquiry and will set out a further long-term and fundamental review of timetabling in the autumn.

ORR says its investigation concluded NR did not implement best practice, evidenced by the need to rewrite the May timetable seven weeks after it sent the draft to industry. This followed confirmation electrification of the Bolton corridor (Manchester to Preston) would not be completed in time for the May timetable change. ORR says the failure to meet T-12 deadlines ‘also contributed to the major disruption faced by many passengers using GTR, Northern and other services since the May timetable was rewritten and implemented’. The regulator plans to make a final order to remedy the licence breach that will come into effect this autumn, following consultation with NR and the wider industry.

However, it has called for more immediate actions from NR to provide assurances concerning the December 2018 and May 2019 timetables. ORR says it supports the decision to ‘de-risk implementation of the December timetable and the following May 2019 timetable’, noting this should lead to ‘a reduction in the quantum of change compared to that originally planned while still preserving the realisation of many passenger benefits (for example those brought about by the completion of enhancement projects)’.

Measures called for include a report to ORR setting out how NR is running ‘an efficient, fair, effective and transparent process in revising upcoming timetables’, along with a revised recovery plan to get timetables back to the T-12 window, both of which were due to be supplied to ORR by 31 August.

ORR notes NR has begun to recruit additional train planning resources and proposes extra staffing in Control Period 6 (2019-24) as well as around £60 million of expenditure on enhanced systems to enable improvements including automation of timetable processes. However, NR is called to accelerate plans to strengthen timetabling capability and resources, with a first draft to be provided by 17 September.

ORR also concluded there are ‘issues with the planning, management and delivery of Network Rail’s Infrastructure Projects function and its interface with the System Operator timetabling function, and the Routes’. Noting decisions ‘are not being taken with a whole system perspective in mind’, the regulator calls for NR to speed up decisions on structural reform and provide it with a draft plan by 30 September.