Rail watchdog tells industry to learn from snow disruption

Britain's rail operators must improve their winter service performance, says the industry's regulator, and they must provide better information to passengers.

The Office of Rail Regulation issued a statement saying that industry has to learn lessons from how it handled the severe pre-Christmas 2010 weather. A particular concern is the way passengers were kept informed about services during the wintry conditions, the ORR said.

ORR added that Network Rail was now likely to fail to meet key performance targets on areas including punctuality and delays for which it was responsible.

The regulator has written to Network Rail and to the passenger train companies "calling for rapid improvements after the rail network struggled to keep passengers properly informed during the recent severe weather".

ORR chief executive Bill Emery said: "Britain has recently experienced hostile weather conditions and all transport sectors have faced difficulties. But we are clear that the rail industry can, and must, improve performance for passengers, particularly in providing useful and accurate information."

Emery went on: "We recognise that great efforts have been made by people right across the railway to keep services running and passengers informed, sometimes in the most difficult conditions, and great credit is due for this. But where there are lessons to be learned, this must happen quickly. Practical steps which can improve the handling of severe conditions for the rest of the winter must be taken now."

The ORR will publish initial findings from its independent review of how the rail industry is meeting its code of practice on passenger information during disruption in the coming weeks.

A spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies said: "Throughout the period of snow and ice in December, a high proportion of services continued to run and the majority of these got in on time. Where there was disruption, train companies apologised to passengers.

"Train companies worked round the clock with NR to keep the railways open. Thanks to the hard work of thousands of railway staff across the industry, trains continued to run."

The spokesman went on: "We recognise that the industry needs to get consistently better at providing information to passengers when there is disruption. Operators, together with NR, already invest significantly in improving the information made available to passengers.

"We are now looking at how in future we can deal better with circumstances such as those experienced recently and follow up the issues highlighted in the Quarmby review (of how transport copes with wintry weather)."

A Network Rail spokesman said: "During the recent tough weather, many passengers saw disruption to their journeys. While the rail network as a whole held up reasonably well, not every service offered to passengers and freight operators was as good as they expect and rightly demand.

"We endeavoured to run as many trains as possible and sometimes put capacity ahead of punctuality. Working closely with train operators, NR is looking at what we can do to further reduce the impact of extreme weather on passenger journeys and improve the flow of information to passengers."

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