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Cause for concern

Following an extensive review, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) has voiced support for the principles of Network Rail’s maintenance restructuring plans but raised significant concerns about some aspects of the proposals including its speed of implementation, not yet having new staff guidance in place, and inadequate employee engagement. ORR has told the company to take urgent action to address these issues.

The ORR is concerned about the tight implementation timescales of Network Rail's proposed changes to the maintenance regime.

In a letter sent to Network Rail, chief executive Bill Emery highlights four potential problem areas with the company’s proposals:

  • There has been no practical test of the proposed changes, which are intended to be implemented to a tight timetable across the entire network. There has not yet been effective employee engagement and critical guidance is not yet available.
  • On the London North-West route, not all of the technological and procedural changes necessary to support the new structures have been implemented. The route includes the West Coast Main Line which still faces many performance challenges.
  • Control of safety critical working hours for Section Managers when support is proposed to be reduced.
  • Classifying vital safety roles and tasks as ‘non-productive’ risks local managers cutting back on site lookouts and safety briefings.

The letter also highlights other issues including inconsistencies in Network Rail’s asset management database and differing employment practices for subcontractors. ORR is concerned this must not impact on essential improvements to safety culture.

"We fully support the changes proposed in Network Rail's maintenance restructuring plans, which aim to improve efficiency as well as sustain improvements in its safety record" said Mr Emery. "However, our extensive review of the company’s proposals led to a number of concerns about the way it plans to implement the changes. We will have no hesitation in taking immediate action if safety to passengers or employees is put at risk. I now urge Network Rail to resolve all identified issues before it commits to implementing this maintenance restructuring."

We will have no hesitation in taking immediate action if safety to passengers or employees is put at risk.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said "Coming from the ORR this is nothing short of condemnation of Network Rail’s dangerous cost-cutting plans. If even the ORR says the plans are untested, being implemented in haste and will put pressure on managers to cut back on safety-critical lookouts and briefings, it is clear that they must be stopped and that is why we are demanding an immediate halt."

But a Network Rail spokesperson attacked the position taken by the RMT. "Working together, we are all committed to a safe, efficient and reliable railway" he said. "Unnecessary and unwanted strike actions jeopardise the progress we have all made in transforming the railway for the British people. Union leaders who defend out-dated work practices from the 1950s are standing in the way of that progress. This is the digital age not the steam age so we need to change so we can deliver the railway Britain needs in the 21st century."

Story added 3rd March 2010; updated 4th March 2010.

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ORR letter
A copy of the letter from Bill Emery to Iain Coucher about Network Rail’s proposed maintenance changes.

NR response to ORR
A copy of the letter from Iain Coucher responding to Bill Emery's concerns.

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