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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.

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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


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