ENFORCEMENT action against the organisation which manages the country’s railways has prompted bosses to make big changes.

After a year of chaotic incidents – including mass delays and cancellations in Bolton – Network Rail was slammed by the Office of Road and Rail (ORR) for “weaknesses” surrounding planning and recovering from disruptive incidents.

In response, the government arms-length body outlined a number of new actions it is taking to identify and address the underlying issues.

It comes as the country’s rail operators – including Northern and TransPennine Express, which run trains through Bolton – are preparing for a new timetable change set to take place nationally on May 19, with changes coming in to force the next day.

This new edition of the timetable could also mean a reintroduction on the Bolton corridor of trains between Manchester and Scotland.

The trains stopped running on this line in 2013 in order to operate on the then-newly electrified railway through Wigan, but TransPennine Express has since confirmed it is seeking to bring these services back to Bolton once trains can travel at 100mph on the line.

In addition, May 2019 will mark the beginning of a programme of phasing out the widely criticised Pacer trains.

Pacers were first introduced by British Rail between 1980 and 1987 as the answer to a shortage of trains, made using the same parts as buses, which is why the trains have a similar seating format to an older bus. They were originally intended as a short-term solution only to be used on smaller rural lines.

Northern still uses the trains on a number of lines, including running regular services between Bolton and Manchester, but the company has repeatedly promised to remove these from the region’s railways.

This phased removal plan will see fewer Pacers operating in Bolton each month, with the aim of completely removing them from service by the end of 2019.

At the same time, more electric trains will be seen on the newly electrified lines in an effort to increase capacity and reduce the number of delays and cancellations.

After a year of poor service, the ORR’s chief executive John Larkinson penned a damning letter which cites several reviews that “consistently highlight issues with Network Rail’s performance planning and service recovery plans”.

The letter included a provisional enforcement order telling the organisation that it must make changes to improve performance and punctuality for passengers.

Over the last year there have been several major incidents, including the disastrous timetable change which caused huge numbers of delays and cancellations in Bolton last May.

This was largely down to a lack of time for operator Northern to plan the new timetable after Network Rail’s electrification project was revealed to be significantly behind schedule.

The problems with electrification were partly put down to unexpected ground conditions, which caused major delays, as well as the collapse of Carillion, the contractor appointed to complete the work.

However, the ORR has since approved Network Rail’s response to the order, with details of three key changes to be made in order to tackle ongoing problems.

These include establishing a new performance management system which will give a clearer understanding of the factors causing delays.

Network Rail also said it will improve its response to incidents and shorten the time taken to recover to a normal service after disruption and will up its recruitment and staff training to increase its capacity to deal with sudden problems.

This change will include a move towards further devolution, in an effort to make the system more suitable to local needs.

Announcing the plans, Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail, said: “The need for radical change is clear. Performance is not good enough and my comprehensive discussions with partners, passengers and politicians up and down the country has made clear to me the things we do well and the areas where we need to improve.

“Devolution has to go much deeper to enable us to get much closer to our partners and customers and be in a much better place to put passengers first and deliver for business too. The changes I’m announcing today are designed to do just that.

Graham Richards, director of planning and performance at the ORR said: “There must be no let-up in the drive to improve performance and we will be making sure Network Rail delivers on its promised steps aimed at improving performance for passengers and freight


“We are pleased to see that Network Rail has reacted positively to our enforcement action and has a thorough plan to identify and tackle the root causes of the deterioration of punctuality.”