RAIL 745 Stop & Examine

Pwllheli remains cut from the national rail network

Pwllheli is a town on the southern coast of Lleyn Peninsula in North Wales. It’s had a station since the Cambrian Railway opened its line in 1867, although the current station dates from 1909 and replaced an original that was a further from the town.

The unmanned station now has a single platform. It once had an island platform with two faces and a pleasing canopy. Today, most of the site is a supermarket with the railway squeezed down one side. There’s just room for a siding and run-round facilities, allowing more than the usual diet of Arriva Trains Wales Class 158s.

Not that Pwllheli has seen many ‘158s’ lately. No trains have called since November when Network Rail realised that work to build new bridge over the River Dwryd (12 miles from Pwllheli) was affecting the adjacent road and railway viaduct to such an extent that it could no longer carry trains. In essence, the bridge was sinking into the river.

Network Rail’s and Gwynedd County Council’s original plan had been to build a new single-track rail bridge on the seaward side of the original 1860’s bridge. With the rail bridge in place and trains running, the old bridge could be demolished and a two-lane road bridge built, complete with combined footpath and cycleway.

Further problems came when the road part of the old bridge was found to have rotten timbers and so it was closed completely. (It had a weight limit and so was only effectively open to nothing bigger than cars.)

Motorists now face a diversion while rail passengers are on buses. Meanwhile, the Cambrian Coast’s rails slowly rust. They’d been expected to keep rusting until May at the earliest, by which time Pwllheli will have been without trains for six months.

The line had its share of storm damage from the winds that battered Britain through the winter. Tywyn, Barmouth and Criccieth were hit, with debris, including large rocks, dumped on the track. Network Rail’s Mavis Choong told me that storm repairs should see the line reopen as far as Harlech on May 1 but she wouldn’t commit to a date for Pwllheli to see trains.

The damage was nowhere near as severe as that on the Great Western Main Line at Dawlish, and Pwllheli is not the size of Plymouth, but the Cambrian Line, wending its way along the coast, is popular and busy. It’s well-used by locals and tourists but its closure has gathered scant publicity.

Unlike the calls to reopen the LSWR route through Okehampton to avoid Dawlish, I’ve not heard any calls to reopen the route from Bangor through Caernarfon to Afon Wen to provide an alternative route! Its northern part closed in 1972 while the southern half shut in 1964.

Six months without trains is a very long time for any town. I can’t think of another recent example where disruption has continued for so long or with so little attention. Pwllheli deserves better.

PIC Philip Haigh Pwllheli170314

Looking east from Pwllheli Goods Level Crossing on March 17 as the Cambrian Coast’s rails rust through lack of use. PHILIP HAIGH.

 Higgins reveals HS2 ideas

You’ll read plenty of news and views of David Higgins’ report on High Speed 2 at the other end of this issue. For my part, I found the report to be very low-key, yet it contained some powerful ideas.

Pushing north to Crewe is particularly interesting. The proposed route between the northern end of Phase 1 near Lichfield and Crewe is relatively simple. There are a couple of tunnels and viaducts but it does not have the complication of the triangular junction further north or the long tunnel under Manchester.

It makes sense to open the western leg of Phase 2 in two sections and so spread the benefits as quickly as possible. Current plans include a link between HS2 and the West Coast Main Line just south of Crewe, before HS2 dives steeply to pass under the town at a depth of around 30 metres. HS2 trains could be running into Crewe while that tunnelling work is going on.

Higgins makes no mention of any equivalent plan for the leg that runs through the East Midlands to Leeds. The building work needed around Toton (with its tangle of railway junctions and lines) is more complicated and that’s the planned site of East Midlands station.

Perhaps it’s too complex to allow an early push to East Midlands, let alone further north to Sheffield, with the M1 needing to be temporarily diverted along the way.

Higgins’ work also lays bare the compromise that formed the original plan for a link between HS1 and HS2. While Britain insists on keeping over-zealous and unnecessary security and passport checks that the rest of Europe has ditched, there’s little point in running direct trains from HS2 stations through the Channel Tunnel. I suspect HS2 stations would need quarantined areas for security checks or that passengers would have to leave their train to file through scanners and passport checks. If that’s to be the case, we’d be better off with an easy link between Euston and St Pancras to allow passengers to change to international trains.

Gaining credence is a link between the WCML and Old Oak Common, which would be likely to run under Kensal Green Cemetery. This should allow WCML suburban trains to continue under London using Crossrail tracks, rather than terminating at Euston. It would help ease Euston’s Underground congestion and could deliver many passengers closer to their real destinations in Central London.

Finally, looking through back issues, I stumbled upon a quote from Sir Alastair Morton. He was chairing the Strategic Rail Authority in spring 2000 when he said: “There are capacity problems ahead on the West Coast, Midland and East Coast Main Line franchises, so yet more capacity north from London will be needed in the second decade of the new century”. How right he was!

RAIL 743 Stop & Examine

DB drops plans to run Channel Tunnel passenger trains

DB’s decision to drop plans to run international trains to London is a bitter blow to those promoting European rail travel.

With HS1 and the Channel Tunnel it should be simple to connect London with European cities beyond Paris and Brussels. DB’s experience shows that it is not.

When the company presented its ICE train to crowds of admirers at St Pancras back in 2010, DB showed style and bravura. For Germany, went the unsaid message, anything is possible. That was to hide the company’s essentially cautious nature. International services may have been a way into the UK market but the subsequent purchase of Arriva provided that for far less risk.

DB is now behind Alliance Rail’s expansionist open access ambitions. If they, like the international trains, prove too difficult then I will not be surprised to see DB pull out, just as it did with Wrexham, Shropshire and Marylebone Railway.

To return to the Channel Tunnel, if DB was ambitious and cautious at the same time, others did not cover themselves in glory. I was never convinced the Intergovernmental Commission was sufficiently active to encourage new entrants (although it did grant DB a licence last summer). As a result, the Channel Tunnel retains its own rules that are stronger than Euro-standard rules that pertain in more challenging tunnels.

As I covered the news story over the years following 2010, something was never right. DB would complain that the trains it had ordered from Siemens were late; Siemens would point out that DB had not ordered trains compliant with Channel Tunnel rules and then DB would blame further delays on problems with an Italian signalling system switch. Meanwhile, Eurostar ordered the same trains (albeit in longer formations) with the same signalling, seemingly without problems.

Germany’s plan was always ambitious. UK rules for passport checks made proposed operations much harder and added time to journeys. Splitting trains at Brussels to serve Amsterdam and Frankfurt added timetable risk. It left the proposal on a knife edge between the sub-four journeys needed to compete with air and financial ruin.

Eurostar presses on with its plans and is set to launch London-Amsterdam trains in December 2016. That’s great but I’d welcome another operator through the Channel Tunnel to keep Eurostar on its toes.

DB ICE visits St Pancras

Plan on ice. DB has dropped ambitious plans to link London with Frankfurt and Amsterdam. It launched the idea by bringing an ICE high-speed train to St Pancras on October 19 2010. PHILIP HAIGH.

 

 

A February night on SWT

After storm after storm, Christmas seems ages ago and yet rail staff in many parts of the country have been working above and beyond the call of duty since then.

Those most obviously affected are dressed in orange with hard hats. But we must not forget train crew whose rosters are changed, timetable planners who keep having to redo their work, and those managers who have to pull the whole show together. There will be plenty more jobs that I’ve not mentioned which have also been stretched.

February 14 was certainly a busy day with another storm tearing over Britain. I had to go to Salisbury and duly boarded SWT’s 1850 from Waterloo. All went well for the first hour, although I had noted an SWT ‘tweet’ part-way into my journey that warned against travel after 2000.

I was only 30 minutes away from ‘Sarum’ when my ‘159’ rolled to a halt at Overton station. There was a fallen tree ahead, we were quickly told. A little while later an Up train passed, which raised hopes. Unfortunately we then moved the same way, running ‘wrong road’ back to Basingstoke. We never made it, stopping somewhere – I couldn’t tell you where – with another tree on the line.

Meanwhile, the orange team had cleared the tree towards Andover so our driver changed ends and we headed west, to reach Whitchurch 169 minutes late.

More trees caused more delays and we were held outside Andover. Eventually we reached it, around four hours late, but only just! There were so many trains in Platform 2 that our six-car train had only its leading door at the platform.

Some passengers left for taxis, with one for Yeovil. No announcements revealed the plan for the rest of the journey and so it was another 45 minutes before Salisbury passengers were told to leave for a taxi. Seeing the row of ‘159s’ in the platform it became obvious we were never going to proceed beyond Andover but it would have been nice to have been told. Never mind, my planned 2020 arrival became after 0100.

So am I complaining? Not really. The railway and its staff have been through one of the toughest periods I can remember (worse at ground level than Hatfield’s aftermath I reckon). I salute them all for their efforts.

 

 

Reopening the ‘Withered Arm’

My old mate Andrew Roden made a sterling case in RAIL 742 for reopening the LSWR route through Okehampton to provide a diversion around Dawlish and its troubled sea wall.

However, both Dawlish and Okehampton rely on a single flood hotspot – Cowley Bridge Junction. Here, Network Rail erects water booms across the track whenever floods threaten so that it can protect signalling equipment. If the line here is blocked then Devon and Cornwall is cut-off, whether or not there’s a line through Okehampton or through Dawlish.

Perhaps a new cut-off between Rewe and Newton St Cyres station to avoid Cowley Bridge will help, as south-western stalwart Tony Berkeley suggests. With other improvements, this could cut 40 minutes from a journey to Cornwall, the peer comments.

 

 

RAIL 742 Stop & Examine

FGW sends Laira fitters to London

First Great Western’s Old Oak Common on Sunday February 9 was a busy place. That morning Production Manager Colin Jeffery welcomed extra staff in the form of a team from Laira.

The Plymouth men had volunteered to come to London to help their colleages cope with the extra work load that resulted from Laira being cut from the rest of FGW’s network by the sea wall collapse at Dawlish.

FGW Engineering Director Andy Mellors explained that Dawlish had trapped eight HSTs in the west, of which four had been in service and four under maintenance. East of the block he had 44 sets. Another was due back from a C6 major overhaul at Kilmarnock and would come to OOC while one of the trapped sets would be taken north in its place.

He added that there were 13 units west of Dawlish and they would be worked on by Exeter Depot staff relocating to Laira as and when exams were due.

Laira Team Leader Al Trevorrow told RAIL he was looking forward to some real work. Pulling a pen from the top pocket of his overalls, he joked: “This is usually the only tool I use!”

Working at OOC was similar Laira, team members told RAIL, but the depot was much bigger. The London depot also has the ability to put an entire HST rake of coaches through the wheel lathe during a night shift if faults are found during a daytime exam. And it was a C-Exam the men were here to perform. It would take most of the four days they expected to be in London, they reckoned.

They normally work four days on and four days off. Their last Laira shift had finished on Friday morning and they’d driven to London on Saturday. The team throught they might be back at Laira on Tuesday but for now they were keen to crack on with their C-Exam.

Philip Haigh FGW Laira team at OOC 090214

Laira’s OOC team in their temporary depot on February 9. From left to right: Malcolm Blank, Paul McGowan, Bill Wanrer, Jim Sharpe, Al Trevorrow, Andy Harbutt and Dave Williams. PHILIP HAIGH.

 

 

 Road and rail spending in Scotland

There’s something wrong in Scotland. After several years prevaricating about Edinburgh-Glasgow electrification – chopping bits from the project and pushing it towards the right – Transport Scotland is now proposing to spend £3,000 million on a single road project.

That project will upgrade the A9 Perth-Inverness road to dual carriageway. It’s certainly an important road and, having driven it several times, I know it is frustrating to be stuck behind lorries. However, the bill seems enormous for 80 miles of road.

That’s not what’s worrying the Rail Freight Group. It’s more concerned with the way that Transport Scotland decided on the project.  RFG Scottish representative David Spaven explains: “Transport Scotland have insisted that their 2009 Strategic Transport Projects Review looked at all the options, but we’ve been through the STPR document several times and it’s quite clear that it did not examine cross-modal packages of road and rail investment to see which mix of interventions would best met policy objectives for safety, connectivity, the economy, environment and climate change – and provide best value for money for the taxpayer.

“The Perth-Inverness railway is still two thirds single-track, and proposed rail enhancements are capped at £600 million, yet Transport Scotland plans to spend £3 billion on full A9 dualling. This huge imbalance of investment will lead to freight traffic switching from rail to road, which of course is contrary to Government policy.”

Of course, there’s a referendum about Scottish independence later this year. Surely there’s no link between the Scottish government’s lurch towards roads over rail and the vote?

 

 

Open Access on British railways

I had never heard of the Guild of Travel Management Companies until its email popped up in mid-January extolling the virtues of ‘open access’ railway companies.

Open access refers to those companies that run services as independents rather than under government franchises. They were an important part of John Major’s privatisation in the 1990s yet have never really gained more than a foothold on today’s railway.

Indeed, it’s only on the East Coast Main Line that you will see them with Hull Trains running to Hull and Grand Central to Sunderland and Bradford (although strictly speaking Heathrow Express is an open access operator). A third company, the eponymous Wrexham, Shropshire and Marylebone Railway disappeared a few years ago.

GTMC chief Paul Wait argues: “We firmly believe that greater competition within the UK rail network will make a positive contribution to rail ticket prices, the connectivity of towns not currently served by mainline services and the ability of business travellers to work through their journey, In turn this will support business efficiency and productivity thereby directly supporting business and economic growth across the country, particularly in the regions.”

OA operators apply for paths to run trains from Network Rail and their applications are ultimately approved, or not, by the Office of Rail Regulation. ORR has long preached open access but, citing congestion, rarely grants paths. Government and franchised operators argue against them, usually claiming that they will take money that should go to government. Yet government has not, on the East Coast at least, specified that franchises directly link London with Hull, Bradford or Sunderland.

Since WSMR’s demise, there are no direct London-Shrewsbury trains. Virgin made much play of introducing such trains as it successfully overturned a government decision to award a West Coast franchise to a competitor. Despite the promise, Virgin has now abandoned the plans and, with it, the town.

DB is applying to run West Coast open access under its Alliance Rail subsidiary. Its plan would provide direct London trains for places such as Rochdale. If the East Coast is anything to go by, its fares will undercut those from Virgin – one reason why OA operators are so well-liked by passengers.

I don’t rate DB’s chances. We hear all too often that the West Coast Main Line is full. Solve the capacity problem and OA may flourish. High Speed 2 anyone?

 

 

Storms and bad weather

Senior Network Rail man Robin Gisby noted on February 6’s Today programme: “It feels like we’re having 1-in-100 year events every year or so.”

With the battering Britain and its railways have taken from storms over the last couple of months, it’s easy to see why. Dawlish is the most high-profile example but it’s by no means the only section of line that’s been blocked by poor weather and storms over the past few weeks.

Dawlish

This is an elevated view of the damage at Dawlish following this week’s storms. Picture: NR.

Dawlish is expected to take several weeks to repair but NR is to put temporary repairs in place to protect the site against storms coming this weekend. Those repairs will use a concrete spraying machine that’s been working at Whiteball Tunnel.

Elsewhere, NR expects to open the Cambrian Coast line as far as Barmouth, having repaired the line through Tywyn that was damaged in storms in early January. Trains should be running from February 10.

Tywyn

Repairs underway on the Cambrian Coast route towards Pwllheli. Picture: NR.

It may yet be May before the line fully reopens back to Pwllheli. NR still has storm damage to repair but it’s a project to build a new bridge at Pont Briwet that will keep the line closed. Here NR has admitted that piling work for the new bridge has affected the structural stability of the old one. This has caused NR to close the bridge to trains.

In Southern England, NR has repaired its Dorking-Horsham line through Ockley, allowing a full service to run once more. One track was closed following a landslip on Christmas Day. The embankment has been strengthened with a steel wall and over 4,000 tonnes of material dropped into place.

Ockley landslip

Network Rail and BAM Nuttall repair the embankment at Ockley, on the Dorking-Horsham route. Picture: NR.

Finally, in Northern England, the Cumbrian Coast line reopened in mid-January. NR had to repair sea defences between Sellafield and Maryport and replace 600 yards of ballast that was washed away at Parton and Kirkby-in-Furness.

Track washed away at Flimby-2Ballast washed away at Flimby on the Cumbrian Coast. Picture: NR.

Do we really need the ‘Withered Arm’?

Destruction of an 80-metre section of sea wall at Dawlish has reopened the debate about the merits of finding an alternative rail route into Devon and Cornwall. The obvious alternative is the ‘Withered Arm’ via Okehampton.

Bft38VlIcAALrtrThe sea wall breach at Dawlish did not just leave Network Rail’s tracks hanging, it also swept away a road and came close to damaging houses. Picture: @SuptArmes

My former RAIL Magazine colleague Andy Roden is spearheading a campaign to reopen the Withered Arm, which is the old London and South Western Railway route that runs inland around Dartmoor. Both ends of the route exist as branches (Plymouth-Bere Ferrers/Gunnislake and Exeter-Crediton-Okehampton/Barnstaple). However, there’s a 20-mile missing section between Meldon and Bere Ferrers.

The route was a victim of the 1960’s Beeching closures but there’s already a well-developed plan to reopen five miles of the western section to restore Tavistock to the rail network. That leaves 15 miles from Tavistock to Meldon Quarry. From Meldon eastwards through Okehampton the line is privately owned by the Dartmoor Railway. It switches back to Network Rail ownership at the former Coleford Junction.

In total, the ‘Withered Arm’ distance between Cowley Bridge Junction (Exeter) and St Budeaux Junction (Plymouth) is 54 miles. This compares with 57 miles via Dawlish but the ‘Arm’ has very low line speeds, 30mph, compared with the Dawlish route’s 60mph. (Speeds do vary and Pacers can run faster than 30mph on the ‘Arm’.)

Aside from the engineering needed to reopen the Withered Arm, planners must also consider the route’s likely traffic. Currently the eastern branch has 14 trains per day (Exeter-Barnstaple) and the eastern line has nine (Plymouth-Gunnislake). Tavistock is clearly worth serving and Okehampton could provide traffic despite it already having a dual-carriageway link to Exeter. But the case for reopening will be far stronger if the line can support itself on its own merits and not simply as a diversionary route should trouble revisit Dawlish.

Campaigners will need to be careful that the debate does not move to become ‘either/or’ for there are many more communities along the main route through Dawlish. There’s Teignmouth, Newton Abbot, Torbay, Totnes and Ivybridge to be considered. It’s clear that if these communities are to continue to be properly served, then the line through Dawlish must remain and must be repaired. If it’s to be repaired, and surely strengthened to counter severe storms, then do we really need the ‘Withered Arm’?

Delayed on East Coast

Arriving at Newcastle station late last night for the 2115 to London, I was met with a departures board displaying an ominous ‘Delayed’. This was strange because the 2115 starts from Newcastle. The arrivals board gave no hint of any incoming service that might form the 2115.

Some ten minutes or so after its booked departure time, the board flicked from ‘Delayed’ to ‘Arrived’ but there was no train. An announcement revealed that my train was held north of Dunbar. It was stuck behind a freight train that had failed around three hours earlier.

With the help of Twitter and Realtime Trains, I discovered that the 2115 would be formed by East Coast’s 1830 Edinburgh-London, which was timetabled to leave Newcastle at 2015 but had been delayed by 227 minutes by the failed freight. It eventually arrived at Newcastle at 2359 to be cancelled and transform itself into the ‘2115’ and leave at 0003. Now running 168 minutes late, it lost more time to be 191 late at one point. London arrival would be 168 late at 0349, having made up most of the extra delay in the final couple of miles from Finsbury Park.

As happens all too often, passenger information was poor. I heard and saw nothing that would help passengers trying to reach London, while others for intermediate stations to York were directed to TPE’s 2156 Newcastle-Manchester.

National Rail Enquiries was little use. Its Twitter feed took three hours to reveal the failed train.

Finally, I wonder what thought Network Rail gave to Single Line Working around the failed train, using crossovers at Drem and Stenton.

A first class conundrum

At face value, it sounds simple to convert first class coaches into standard class to reduce congestion.

Think of first class and many will think of large seats arranged in pairs on one side of an aisle and singly on the other (so-called 2+1 seating). Trains used by commuters with first class, such as  Southeastern’s Class 375s, have their first class compartments arranged with pairs of seats either side of an aisle (2+2 seating). This is the same as in standard class which means that converting a compartment from first to standard yields few if any extra seats. More could be done be removing tables from standard class and using the space for extra seats.

If there’s little difference in seating capacity, there’s a bigger difference in fare. I’ll stick with my Southeastern theme and take a look at an annual season ticket from Bat & Ball station to London. In standard class, this will cost £3,208.00 (£6.68 per journey); in first class, it’s £4,812.00 (£10.02 per journey). So for Southeastern to convert its coaches it must accept lower fares revenue and, in turn, government will need to pay a higher subsidy to the company.

The problem is slightly different at First Great Western. Here the company has already converted one first class compartment of the diesel Turbo trains to standard class. It is now facing pressure to convert a 2+1 HST coach. But these HSTs are long-distance, inter-city trains that run to South Wales, Bristol and the West Country – all destinations for which classic first-class seating is needed. However, given its small and short fleet of Turbos, FGW is forced to use long-distance stock for commuters.

It’s a mix that doesn’t fit well. The answer for FGW is electrification and provision of 12-car electric multiple units as used into just about every other London terminus. Unfortunately, that answer is still some years away.

NR transfer pushes ORR towards redundancy

Network Rail’s debt are now our debts. Of course, they always were, it was only accounting niceties and fudge that kept debts guaranteed by government from government’s books.

With the air now cleared, ministers and civil servants can think about how they might take advantage of their new-found freedom over NR as a “central government body in the public sector”, as Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin put it to MPs.

In that same statement, McLoughlin said it would “have no effect on rail fares, performance, punctuality, timetables, or safety”. I sincerely hope it has an effect on punctuality given the daily litany of NR infrastructure failures, such as Tuesday’s East Coast Main Line collapse in north London.

He also said that the Office of Rail Regulation would remain as NR’s economic and safety regulator. I don’t believe this is viable in the long-term. It’s hard to see DfT civil servants setting a budget and ministers agreeing that budget with their Treasury counterparts only for another group of civil servants at ORR to then crawl over it before it’s passed to a fourth government body, Network Rail. That all seems very inefficient!

There’s also the matter of DfT’s long-held but unused right to appoint a “special director” to NR’s board. McLoughlin is considering who to appoint and it will be fascinating to see how political the appointee is.

 

Switching Network Rail debts to government could increase sell-off pressure

This week could see Network Rail’s debts of around £40 billion added to Chancellor George Osborne’s account. It depends on a decision from the Office of National Statistics which is currently considering the situation.

For while NR is classed as a private company, it still uses its Financial Indemnity Mechanism (FIM) that sees government guarantee its borrowing. Whenever ministers announce rail investment, they are normally just allowing NR to borrow more to fund the scheme announced. Colloquially, they are doing little more than flexing NR’s credit card!

The Department for Transport explained FIM to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee: “The financial indemnity mechanism (FIM) is a direct UK sovereign obligation of the crown and cannot be cancelled for any reason (prior to its termination date in October 2052). This UK Government guarantee is unconditional, irrevocable and unlimited.”

With that description, it’s hard to see how NR’s debts have been kept off government books since the company was created from the ashes of Railtrack over a decade ago. Since its creation, NR has clung to its private company status and is regulated as a private company by the Office of Rail Regulation which decides every five years what income and spending NR should incur.

Much of the company’s money comes straight from government in the form of the Network Grant, which amounts to around £4bn a year, further strengthening the case for adding NR’s £40bn to the UK’s public sector net debt of £1,200bn. NR’s debts cost around £900m a year and it pays government around £450m as a FIM fee. In total, NR spending is around £7bn a year.

Last week, The Times reported that switching NR’s debt could lead to government ministers being responsible for agreeing such things as NR bonuses.

It could also make ORR’s economic and regulatory work irrelevant. Network Rail could became a DfT agency in the same way as the Highways Agency or the CAA. Budgets could be directly agreed with HM Treasury.

As Britain witnesses a level of rail investment not seen for decades, direct Treasury control could see pressure to reduce this spending, not least to reduce NR’s debt.

Taken to an extreme, government thoughts might turn to selling Network Rail in order to reduce UK debts. That would put the cat among the pigeons!

Network Rail faces fines for late trains

In the three months that constitute Quarter 2, around 122,600 trains ran late as Network Rail posted performance that varied between 0.9 and 5.1 percentage points behind its targets. These figures are from the Office of Rail Regulation and it comments that NR is likely to miss all its passenger performance targets for the year that ends next March.

It’s long-distance travellers that suffer the worst performance. For them, 86.6% of trains run on time, against a target of 92.0%. NR is not the only cause of delay, train operators also suffer from failed trains or lack of crew that leads to delays or cancellations. But NR carries the bulk of delays with ORR revealing that 70% of delay minutes for Virgin lie at NR’s door. For East Coast, NR’s share is 67%. For First Great Western, it’s 56%.

ORR goes on to reveal that NR has massively underspent the funding allowed by the regulator for maintenance and renewals. The figure is now £1.2bn over the first four years of the current five-year control period. It reports an increase of 34% in delays attributed to track faults compared with last year. ORR reckons that the rise in delays can be linked to NR not spending as much as it should to maintain its network.

Yet remember the figure of 122,600 delayed trains? There’s another large number that should be considered. And that’s 148,000. It’s the number of extra services that NR is accommodating nationally compared with the same time period in 2008/09. When you add these extra trains to a huge programme of enhancements (think Reading) and at the same time stir in maintenance and renewals then you find that NR is trying to do more with less time.

It’s a difficult problem and now NR faces being fined by ORR for not delivering the railway it promised for the funding ORR permitted. Or put another way, NR will be fined for not spending quickly enough.