Published 15th June 2014
Network Rail (NR) has published its annual set of accounts and reports that it has invested a whopping £7 BILLION in the last financial year. Pretty much wherever passengers travel, they will see evidence of improvement works which is needed to keep up with demand for services from passengers and freight customers.
NR has been spending around £20million a day on new stations, platforms, lifts, information systems, concourses, footbridges and track to create a bigger and better railway.
During this reporting period, passenger numbers grew by 86million which marks the doubling of rail passengers since 1995. This number is forecast to increase by another 30% in the next decade. But is this the real story?
Mark Carne, NR chief executive, said: "We are in the middle of a rail renaissance, with record levels of passenger numbers and record levels of investment. This flourishing sector is investing heavily to improve the railway for today and for tomorrow.”
Over the year, 90% of train services ran to time, 2.5 percentage points below the regulatory target. While some of this shortfall was caused by congestion as the railway witnessed growth of 5.7% in passenger journeys during the year, extreme weather and slower improvements in asset reliability also played a part.
Mr Carne continued: “With a million more trains on the network than 10 years ago, there are inevitable challenges - we are determined to do more to improve train reliability in the face of these challenges. We will increase the reliability of the network and make it more resilient to climate change.
The above comments could be interpreted that as more and more passengers travel, they are causing delays, which in turn mean that NR has not met its statutory punctuality targets against which it is funded by taxpayers.
So more passengers mean delays and you have to have sympathy with these claims as more passengers are using rail, they struggle to get off and on trains. Generally only a one minute station stop is allowed for in the timetable but the quantity of passengers at many stations means trains are there for three or four minutes thus creating delays.
It was a well known fact that 20 years ago when British Rail ran trains, delays could be minimised by gaining time later in the journey which was as now, scheduled in the timetable. This was possible because there were far less trains running carrying less passengers and so the opportunity to recover lost time was usually present.
Today though, there are far more services causing congestion and so delays are compounded. More passengers bring more and more luggage and modern trains do not have good storage areas for this luggage which in turn creates more problems.
In addition to this The Rail Regulator’s office allows and encourages more and more trains to run so NR is genuinely caught between a rock and a hard place so far as performance is concerned.
The rail industry supports a performance regime known as Schedule 8 in Track Access Agreements and if a train is delayed more than three minutes, the delay is attributed to the event that caused it. So if a train is delayed at a station because of the sheer weight of passengers getting on and off, the train operator has to pay a fine to Network Rail. If there is a track or signal failure, then Network Rail has to pay out for consequential delays.
Network Rail manages the most used 19 stations in the UK rail network but have you tried to contact the station management teams? It is a deliberate policy not to give out station contact details for the public unlike for train operating company managed stations who display posters with names and phone numbers of their staff.
Is it right that Network Rail, owned by taxpayers and passengers should remain out of touch and seemingly unaccountable?
Capital expenditure was £6,873m (2012/13: £5,050m) contributing to an increased asset value of £49,833m (£46,411m last year)
Revenue was £6,333m (£6,197m in 2012/13) and profit after tax was £1,256m (up 86% from £677m) with all profits reinvested.
Operating profit was £2,001m (£2,207m last year) and net debt at year end was £32,987m (£30,358m) with a gearing ratio of 65%, comfortably within the regulator’s 75% limit
Network Rail says the profit was made up of ‘accounting gains’ on hedging instruments of £304m and a tax credit of £221m. They say that hedging is done to manage the impact of potential volatility from interest rate and currency fluctuation.
This relates to their debt which pays interest on long term bonds guaranteed by the Government. From September, NR will become another Government Department and so nationalisation will be complete.
Patrick Butcher, group finance director, said: “The last year has been one of operational and financial challenges. We have been disappointed with train performance but celebrate continued strong growth, savings made, swiftly repairing the railway following extreme weather and hundreds of projects completed to improve and expand the railway.
Despite criticism of Network Rail, it must be acknowledged that Britain's railways are amongst the safest in Europe, if not the world.
90% of passenger trains ran on time last year, a reduction from 90.9% the previous year. This must be put into context that in the last decade the network has had to accommodate a million more trains a year on it with record numbers of passengers.
These numbers will increase helped by some vital enhancement projects to add capacity across the rail network. But are they investment or routine maintenance? This is not made clear in the claim that over 5,000 projects have been completed over the course of the last five years such as over 2,000 miles of track renewed. Real improvements are where for example almost 200 lifts have been installed at stations and more than 140 platforms lengthened to accommodate longer trains.
The LNER provided some useful statistics in 1924 which proves that 90 years later, nothing is new on the railways. Take a look at these figures:
Trains run | 1922 Feb / 49336 | 1923 Feb / 59261 | 1922 Average delay / 1.1 mins | 1923 Average delay / 1.3 mins
Trains run | 1922 July / 52662 | 1923 July / 61305 | 1922 Average delay / 1.5 mins | 1923 Average delay / 2.3 mins
The percentage of trains running less than five minutes late reduced from 94.3% to 93.6% in the February figures and trains running more than 15 minutes late increased from 81.6% to 91.6% in the July figures.
This shows that the same correlation existed in pre-computer days with more trains decreasing punctuality and the statistics were compiled by the LNER Head of Statistics Dept, Mr C Mossop.
There is very little new on the railways!