Britain’s largest transport union, the RMT, has learned that Network Rail has ordered the deferral of 28 per cent of its track-renewals programme thanks to financial restrictions imposed by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) – which is also the industry’s safety watchdog.
The squeeze is also being felt on the maintenance side of Network Rail, which is also seeing cuts in the frequency of track inspections and routine signals maintenance.
The RMT has demanded re-instatement of Network Rail’s full programme of planned renewals work and a reversal of cuts in maintenance regimes and inspections.
‘The 22 per cent efficiency savings demanded by the ORR are being translated into a massive assault on planned renewals, inspections and maintenance that raises the spectre of another Hatfield or Potters Bar,’ said Bob Crow, RMT general secretary.
He added: ‘We do not make that assertion lightly, but the news that 28 per cent of planned renewals are to be deferred should raise alarm bells, not least when that comes on top of cuts in the frequency of inspections and signals maintenance.
‘It is only a few months since Network Rail was slapped with an improvement notice on its inspection regime after the tragedy at Grayrigg and the last thing the industry needs is further cuts.’
According to Network Rail, over the next five-year period an ‘adjustment in phasing’ will result in less volume of track renewals in the first year to allow time for new, more efficient ways of working to take effect, delivering the value for money needed to meet tough ORR output targets.
Simon Kirby, director of infrastructure investment at Network Rail, said; ‘We are committed to continue to invest in our railway to deliver ever-higher levels of reliability for the passenger and freight users. But we must deliver value for money for this work and it makes sense to take advantage of new, more efficient methods of working in our future planned work.’
He added: ‘With smarter and more mechanised ways of carrying out track renewals coming on stream in a few years time, reducing volumes next year and ramping up in the years that follow will help to deliver the savings we need if we are to meet ORR output targets.’
Crow said: ‘When Network Rail talks of “volume phasing to be adjusted to help deliver more value for money” what they mean is that they are cutting their track-renewals programme by nearly a third, and that must be reversed.’