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Reducing passenger rail delays by better management of incidents

In 2006-07, almost 800,000 incidents caused 14 million minutes of delay to rail journeys costing a minimum of £1 billion in terms of time lost to passengers, according to a report released today by the National Audit Office.

There was a sharp increase in delay minutes after the Hatfield derailment in October 2000 and the number of rail incidents also increased. Network Rail has succeeded in working with the Train Operating Companies to reduce the number of incidents on the passenger network to below the level recorded in 1999-00, whilst the number of delay minutes is almost back down to its pre-Hatfield level.

In 2006-07, Network Rail infrastructure faults such as problems with the track and signal failure accounted for 42 per cent of total delay minutes, Train Operating Companies caused 38 per cent and external events such as weather conditions or vandalism, 20 per cent. Resolving incidents and getting trains running again requires cooperation between Network Rail, Train Operating Companies and in some cases the emergency services. The NAO found that, while Network Rail and Train Operating Companies generally had well established procedures for managing incidents which were followed appropriately, contingency plans were not always available or implemented as well as they could have been.

The relationship between Network Rail and the emergency services could be improved, with some members of the emergency services not knowing whom they should contact at Network Rail in an emergency. The National Audit Office recommends that national memoranda of understanding are established between Network Rail and emergency services. Individuals may not have received in-depth training on how to work safely on the tracks which can lead to confusion. Network Rail should work with the emergency services to ensure guidance is available to all who may need it.

One third of passengers recently surveyed by Passenger Focus were dissatisfied with the way rail incidents were dealt with and, of those who were unhappy, 75 per cent complained of a lack of information when they were delayed. The Association of Train Operating Companies has issued passenger information good practice guidelines to its members.

“In addition to frustrating passengers, train delays cost the economy over £1 billion year. The rail industry has made progress in keeping trains moving, despite the rise in traffic on the network but, when incidents happen, passengers should get better information about what is happening. All sections of the rail industry need to improve their incident planning to keep trains moving quickly and safely.”

Tim Burr, head of the National Audit Office

Notes for Editors

  1. Network Rail is accountable for the overall performance of the railway and has primary responsibility for managing incidents, including those suffered by Train Operating Companies as a result of other Train Operating Companies’ actions.
  2. Throughout this report we use the term “incident” to refer to any event that can cause delay to timetabled passenger services, such as infrastructure and train faults, and other factors such as poor weather, fires and fatalities (which are referred to in this report as “external” incidents). Delay minutes are measured for a single train against its timetabled journey time between two points where three minutes of delay or more are incurred. The 1,000 delay minutes threshold is made up of the cumulative delay minutes for all trains affected by an incident, for example 100 trains each delayed by 10 minutes.
  3. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
  4. The Comptroller and Auditor General, Tim Burr, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 850 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.

PN: 17/08