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Railhub Archive
1999-08-12 ORR-001
Office of the Rail Regulator


Rail Regulator demands action plan for broken rails

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Office of the Rail Regulator

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Office of the Rail Regulator

Rail Regulator demands action plan for broken rails

12 August 1999
source Office of the Rail Regulator
type Press release

note ORR/99/33

Tom Winsor, the new Rail Regulator, has today told Railtrack that the 21 percent increase in rail breakages reported by the Health and Safety Executive for the last year confirms his anxieties about Railtrack’s ability to manage its assets in the interests of rail users.

In a letter to Gerald Corbett, Chief Executive of Railtrack, Tom Winsor said: "I consider the trend in rail breaks across the network to be clear evidence of failing asset management. ... In my opinion, reactive action [of the kind recently taken by Railtrack] is symptomatic of a policy which is the antithesis of effective asset management."

The Rail Regulator has demanded to see Railtrack’s action plan to identify the locations on the network which are at risk of rail breaks, to know what new asset management actions are being taken as a result, and to know what improvements are being made to the way in which Railtrack’s stewardship of the national network is discharged. This step is preliminary to possible enforcement action if the Regulator concludes that Railtrack is now in breach of its licence obligations.

Notes for Editors:

A copy of the Rail Regulator’s letter to the Chief Executive of Railtrack is below.

12 August 1999

Gerald Corbett Esq
Chief Executive
Railtrack PLC
Railtrack House
Euston Square
London NW1 2EE


1. This letter concerns the significant increase in the incidence in broken rails on Railtrack’s network and constitutes a formal demand under Condition 13 of Railtrack’s network licence for information which will enable me to establish whether or not Railtrack is in breach of its network stewardship obligations. It requires an urgent response and should be given a high priority.

2. I am very concerned about the number of rail breaks occurring on Railtrack’s network. There has been a clear rising trend, with a particularly sharp increase occurring in the last year, when the number of rail breaks was very significantly greater than your own predictions in the 1998 Network Management Statement. This has been further highlighted by the publication today of the HSE's "Railway Safety Statistics Bulletin 1998/99".

3. As you know, the HSE is the primary safety regulator for the railways, and acts under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and legislation made under it. My jurisdiction comes from the Railways Act 1993 and Railtrack’s network licence. The HSE is concerned with safety, whereas I am concerned with Railtrack’s meeting the standard in Condition 7 of its network licence to maintain its network in accordance with best practice in a timely, economic and efficient manner. As you will therefore appreciate, the HSE and I have overlapping but not identical responsibilities in this area. It is in relation to the best practice maintenance standard that I am writing to you now.

4. I consider the trend in rail breaks across the network to be clear evidence of failing asset management. The rail break in the Severn Tunnel is symptomatic of a wider issue, since the Severn Tunnel case was not the first occasion on which HMRI has found it necessary to issue formal notices on Railtrack for the poor state of its assets. Where this has been necessary, I believe there is a prima facie case that Railtrack was in breach of its network licence obligations. I now need to establish whether Railtrack is still in breach, or is likely to be in breach, of those obligations.

5. Our two organisations have already had extensive discussions on this matter. Following your letter of 16 June 1999, a briefing was provided on 6 July 1999 by Chris Leah, Andrew McNaughton and other Railtrack personnel to HMRI and my Office. That briefing dealt with both the Severn Tunnel case and the national situation. I have now received your report entitled "Railtrack's broken rail proposals for the next control period - July 1999." This document is being studied by my Office and may lead to further questions in due course.

6. Through your responses to my investigation, Railtrack has tried to demonstrate that firm management action is being taken to deal with this situation. However, although Railtrack frequently asserts that it has moved to a condition-based renewal policy (and by implication provides more efficient asset management), both the national situation and the particular case of the Severn Tunnel raise serious questions about the real underlying state of asset knowledge within Railtrack.

7. A case in point is your admission on 16 June 1999 that in your projection of the incidence of broken rails in the 1998 NMS, Railtrack "made insufficient allowance for the impact of traffic growth", although Railtrack has now acknowledged that there are many other factors at work, including the age of rail on certain parts of the network (something entirely within Railtrack's control). On 3 August 1999, Railtrack told my Office that it had put in place a programme involving an additional unplanned expenditure of £40 million on rerailing, to deal with the problem of the rising trend of rail breaks. In my opinion, reactive action of that kind is symptomatic of a policy which is the antithesis of effective asset management.

8. Your latest report and the 6 July 1999 briefing indicated that Railtrack is trying to strengthen its management of its assets. The emerging results must unequivocally demonstrate Railtrack's ability to deliver improving rail conditions, and specifically "arrest and reverse the recent trend in broken rails" - your words on 16 June 1999.

9. In 1998, your NMS forecast of the number of broken rails in 1999/2000 and 2000/01 was 525 (implied) and 450 respectively. In 1999, your NMS forecast was increased to 770 and 700 respectively. I require you to establish to my satisfaction that the 1999 forecast is justifiable and meets the best practice standard in Condition 7 of Railtrack's network licence. In any event, I consider that in order to demonstrate compliance with Condition 7 of its network licence, Railtrack must at the very least deliver on its 1999 NMS forecast of broken rails in 1999/2000 and 2000/01.

10. In order to establish whether or not Railtrack is complying and is likely to comply with its stewardship obligations in this area, this letter is a formal demand for information which constitutes evidence that Railtrack is taking appropriate steps to identify locations on the network which are at risk and properly to satisfy itself that the actions now proposed are sufficient to minimise these risks.

11. In addition, I require you to provide me with the following information to show current trends and which allows me to consider these in the historical context—

For immediate action and required until further notice

(a) monthly statements of the number of broken rails, to enable me to monitor the developing trend;

(b) monthly statements of the number of rail defects being recorded on the network; this should not be restricted to those identified and removed but should include those detected and being monitored in track or repaired in situ; the breakdown by location category should also be provided;

Provision of historic data

(c) annual figures for the number of rail defects, in the same format as the monthly statements of the number of rail defects, from 1 April 1994 to 31 March 1999, with figures for each month or four-week period between 1 April 1999 to 31 July 1999;

(d) details of the techniques which have been used since April 1994 to prevent rail breaks and the extent to which each has been used;

(e) the annual mileages operated by ultrasonic test units since April 1994 and the extent now being planned for 1999 and beyond;

Provision of explanatory report

(f) a detailed explanation of what steps Railtrack is taking in conjunction with train operators and others to tackle the railway vehicle maintenance issues which you believe to be a contributory factor in the increase in broken rails.

12. The information specified in paragraphs 11(a) and (b) require immediate action and should be provided until further notice. The information specified in paragraphs 10 and 11(c), (d), (e) and (f) is required by 1 September 1999.

13. I am copying this letter to the Deputy Prime Minister, Vic Coleman (HMRI), Sir Alastair Morton and Mike Grant (SSRA). I am also publishing it with a press notice and placing a copy in the ORR Library.


Railhub Archive ::: 1999-08-12 ORR-001


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