Office of the Rail Regulator
Rail Regulator questions Railtrack’s asset management over broken rails
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Rail Regulator questions Railtrack’s asset management over broken rails
type Press release/letter
Tom Winsor, the Rail Regulator, today questioned Railtrack’s effective management of its assets by writing to require the company to provide further information about plans for reducing the incidence of broken rails.
His concerns arise from Railtrack’s Reconciliation Statement, published in July 1999, on the previous year’s Network Management Statement showing 937 actual broken rails against an NMS forecast in 1998 of 600 rail breakages; the Health and Safety Executive report, published in August 1999, reflected this increase reporting a 21 per cent increase in rail breakages last year.
Mr Winsor, in a letter to Railtrack’s Chief Executive, Mr Gerald Corbett, said : "You have assured me of Railtrack’s commitment to tackling the problem of broken rails. I know that you do recognise the importance of achieving a significant reduction in the number of breaks occurring on the network".
In response to Railtrack’s previous explanation that several factors have caused the recent increase in broken rails, the Regulator said : " I can accept that several influences may be at work, but I continue to believe that many factors indicate a lack of effective asset management".
The Regulator has therefore demanded more evidence in support of the company’s case that it has not breached its licence. Mr Winsor said: "Without that information, I cannot be satisfied that everything possible is being done to reduce the number of broken rails to a level that is consistent with the obligations of Condition 7 of your licence.
"I therefore cannot at this stage accept your assertion that a situation where the actual number of broken rails (937 in 1998/99) is so far in excess of the forecast (600 in the 1998 NMS) does not constitute a breach of Condition 7."
The Regulator adds: "It is imperative that Railtrack plans, and succeeds in carrying through, actions to reverse the recent trend and significantly to drive down the number of these incidents."
Notes to Editors
A copy of the Rail Regulator’s letter to the chief executive of Railtrack is attached.
The HSE report – Railway Safety Statistics Bulletin 1998/99 – was published on 12 August 1999. On the same day the Regulator wrote to Gerald Corbett demanding an action plan to address the problem of the increase in broken rails.
Discussions since then with both Railtrack and the HSE have resulted in today’s formal requirement for further information about Railtrack’s plans for tackling the problem and for confirmation of what those plans are intended to deliver.
Text of the letter sent to Railtrack 12 November 1999.
12 November 1999
Gerald Corbett Esq.
This letter further addresses the recent significant increase in broken rails occurring on the network. It is a response to your letter to me on this subject, dated 1 September 1999, and it constitutes a formal request for further information about Railtrack’s plans for tackling this problem and for confirmation of what those plans are intended to deliver.
You have assured me of Railtrack’s commitment to tackling the problem of broken rails. I know that you do recognise the importance of achieving a significant reduction in the number of breaks occurring on the network. I also recognise the considerable effort that has been given to developing Railtrack’s plans for delivering this reduction, and to sharing those plans with me.
Both Her Majesty’s Railway Inspectorate (HMRI) and I have written to you in recent weeks on this issue. You know that the recent increase in broken rails is unacceptable to both of us. We both need to be satisfied with Railtrack’s plans to reduce the number of rail breaks, and the targets they are expected to deliver.
HMRI wrote to Railtrack on 2 September 1999 to express concern that the forecasts contained in the 1999 Network Management Statement are not "going anywhere near to achieving an acceptable level of broken rails". Receipt of a copy of Railtrack’s reply of 4 October 1999 has enabled me to conclude my analysis of the further information that I require.
That reply implies that further reductions, to levels below the NMS forecasts, may indeed be achievable. It therefore appears that the 1999 NMS forecasts of rail break numbers may not represent the lowest reasonably practicable numbers that best practice maintenance should achieve. I am writing to you now to seek an explanation of this apparent inconsistency. I should particularly like to know how Railtrack prepared its 1999 NMS forecasts, and again, how these figures represent best practice if lower numbers are achievable?
Your letter of 1 September 1999 provided me with an analysis of the five key factors which Railtrack considers lie behind the recent increase in rail breaks. I can accept that several influences may be at work, but I continue to believe that many of the factors indicate a lack of effective asset management. Indeed, I consider that your letter confirms this. Although you have emphasised to both HMRI and me that an "apparent increase in the number of wheel flats and poor vehicle maintenance" is a key factor, I do not consider that you have yet produced any substantive evidence to support this assertion.
The Annex to this letter therefore asks for two things. It asks for clarification of the number of broken rails that Railtrack is now targeting. It also asks you for further information that provides more substantive evidence in support of Railtrack’s views about the major causes of rail breaks. I require this information so that I can assess whether Railtrack’s plans and actions are sufficient to meet its stewardship obligations.
Without that information, I cannot be satisfied that everything possible is being done to reduce the number of broken rails to a level that is consistent with the obligations of Condition 7 of your licence. I therefore cannot at this stage accept your assertion that a situation where the actual number of broken rails (937 in 1998/99) is so far in excess of the forecast (600 in the 1998 NMS) does not constitute a breach of Condition 7.
It is imperative that Railtrack plans, and succeeds in carrying through, actions to reverse the recent trend and significantly drive down the number of these incidents. You should be in no doubt that I do regard the comparison of emerging results with your clear forecasts as a critical test of Railtrack’s licence compliance. I will continue to do so.
I am receiving the regular broken and defective rail data that I requested on 12 August 1999 and I am using this information to monitor the emerging trends. I look forward to receiving the further information that I am requesting now.
I have discussed the draft of this letter with Vic Coleman (HMRI) and we are fully agreed on the linkages between track quality and safety issues. I am copying this letter to him, and to the Deputy Prime Minister, Sir Alastair Morton and Mike Grant (SSRA). I am also publishing it with a press notice and placing a copy in the ORR Library.
REQUIREMENTS OF THE RAIL REGULATOR FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON UNDERLYING CAUSES OF BROKEN RAILS
Forecast of Numbers of Rail Breaks
A.1 Railtrack told HMRI in a letter dated 4 October 1999 that it may be possible to reduce the numbers of broken rails below its 1999 NMS forecasts.
A.2 In the light of that advice the Regulator therefore requires to know by 10 December 1999:
what number of broken rails is Railtrack now targeting, for each of the years given in the 1999 NMS?
how were the 1999 NMS targets prepared, given that Railtrack’s July submission ("Railtrack’s broken rail proposals for the next control period – July 1999") identified the need for additional actions to meet the NMS forecast? Please show how your latest targets are the lowest reasonably practicable numbers achievable?
Timeliness of Renewals
A.3 Railtrack told the Regulator in its letter of 1 September 1999 that one factor behind the recent rise in rail breaks is "rail nearing the end of its life in high tonnage routes".
A.4 The Regulator questions the implications of this statement. On the south end of the West Coast Main Line, for example, the recent spate of rail breaks does not seem to suggest that the rail was nearing life expiry, but that it was already at, or even beyond life expiry. The same issue was raised with Railtrack in the recent case of the Severn Tunnel, where rail was left in service for longer than was the practice before privatisation.
A.5 This raises important questions about the timeliness of Railtrack’s management of rail renewals, the assumptions it makes about the lives of the network assets, and the procedures by which Railtrack monitors rail life.
A.6 The Regulator therefore now requires Railtrack to provide by 21 January 2000, as an example of asset stewardship practices across the entire network, the following information in respect of its management of rail conditions on the south end of the West Coast Main Line:
what expectation of rail life did Railtrack apply prior to the recent spate of breaks?
how was Railtrack determining the intervention point for renewal of rail on the route?
what means of monitoring was being utilised?
did Railtrack prepare and monitor data on the number of rail defects per track km.? What figures were occurring?
what was the actual life achieved in each case of broken rail on the route, in terms of (i) installed age, and (ii) cumulative gross tonnage carried?
what changes have been made to assumptions and processes in the light of recent experience of rail breaks on this route?
A.7 Railtrack has accepted that poor track quality is a factor in the increase in numbers of broken rails. However, it has emphasised that it has carried out more rail replacement than the 1995 AMP allowance, and pointed out that the Booz-Allen report published in April 1999 confirms this.
A.8 Nevertheless, the Booz-Allen report also indicates a significant under-achievement in terms of other critical track renewals such as re-sleepering and re-ballasting. The Regulator considers that under-achievement in these activities is likely to have a far greater influence upon the extent of poor quality track than the level of replacement of rails.
A.9 The Regulator will therefore be looking for evidence from his assessment of Railtrack’s future expenditure requirements and his audit of Railtrack’s Track Quality Improvement Programme that track renewal activity is planned at sufficient levels to ensure that rail breaks do not occur as a result of poor track quality. He particularly requires to know by 21 January 1999:
whether Railtrack has taken steps to increase the frequency of inspection and monitoring rail on routes where track quality is poor?
whether Railtrack has adjusted its projections of rail life on routes where track quality has been, or remains, poor.
to what extent has Railtrack considered, and acted upon, the likely effects of poor track quality in combination with other factors, such as traffic growth?
Monitoring and Control Measures
A.10 Railtrack’s letter of 1 September 1999 noted that its audits had shown that rail inspection and testing activities have not yet achieved full compliance with Group and Line Standards, although it emphasised that where full compliance is not achieved corrective actions are in place.
A.11 The Regulator therefore requires to know by 10 December 1999:
a) the extent of non-compliance currently existing; and
b) when will full compliance be achieved?
Traffic Growth Effects
A.12 Railtrack considers that the significant growth of trains and tonnage carried is a factor in the recent increase in the number of rail breaks.
A.13 The Regulator recognises that traffic growth has occurred on the network. However, he does not consider that there is an inevitable linkage between growth and the incidence of rail breaks. Although overall traffic volumes in the late 1980s did not reach the current levels, substantial growth did occur in that period and a higher volume of freight traffic was carried then than is carried now. Despite this growth the number of rail breaks per million train miles was at a low level in 1989, which has not been achieved since; figures published by the HSE show that there has been an almost continually rising trend since 1989.
A.14 The Regulator therefore requires to know by 21 January 1999:
what are Railtrack’s forecasts for each year given in the 1999 NMS in terms of the numbers of rail breaks per million train miles?
How has the traffic growth of recent years informed Railtrack’s rail replacement strategy and planning assumptions?
A.15 Railtrack has stated that maintenance activities have not always kept pace with traffic increases on some routes.
A.16 Effective stewardship requires the right level of maintenance activities to suit traffic levels. The Regulator is concerned that sufficient inputs have not been made in all cases, despite the fact that the infrastructure maintenance contracts make provision for such adjustment. The Booz-Allen report examined the extent to which contract variations have been agreed with Railtrack’s infrastructure maintenance contractors in accordance with the contract provisions for price adjustments to reflect volume changes. The Regulator needs to reconcile the findings of the report with reported increases in traffic in order to satisfy himself that Railtrack has acted, and is acting, in a timely manner to facilitate the adjustment of maintenance and renewal activities which truly reflects such traffic changes.
A.17 The Regulator therefore requires Railtrack to provide information by 21 January 1999 to show:
how Railtrack records traffic changes and ensures that accurate and timely information is passed to its maintenance contractors to enable them to make appropriate adjustments to their maintenance activities.
examples of the application of this in practice, by Railtrack asset management and contract management personnel at all levels;
evidence that its contractors are satisfied with the sufficiency, accuracy and timeliness of this critical information;
evidence that demonstrates that its contractors are always given fair opportunity to adjust their maintenance activities accordingly.
Vehicle Maintenance Issues
A.18 Railtrack has referred to an apparent increase in the number of wheel flats and poor vehicle maintenance as a factor behind the increasing number of broken rails. Additionally, Mr Leah’s letter to HMRI, dated 4 October 1999, claims that these are "probably the single most significant contributors to the current problems."
A.19 The Regulator notes that Railtrack has offered these comments as perceptions which are prefaced by the words ‘apparent’ and ‘probably’. However, Railtrack has not offered any substantive evidence in support of its views. He is therefore looking for clear evidence which supports Railtrack’s assertion that vehicle and wheel maintenance factors are significant factors in the recent increase in rail breaks.
A.20 The Regulator therefore requires Railtrack to supply the following information by 21 January 1999:
a) the number of wheel flats recorded for the year 1996/97 and each year thereafter;
b) the extent of network coverage achieved in acquiring these measurements;
c) details of the analysis that Railtrack has carried out to identify any seasonal, geographical, traction types or specific operator or maintenance depot factors;
d) details of actions that Railtrack has taken in response to such analysis, with whom and with what effect;
e) whether Railtrack has acted, and what action has been taken, to prevent the importation of unacceptable levels of risk onto the network by, for example, ordering the removal of certain trains, classes of train, trains from particular depots or operator, from the network until remedial action is undertaken; and
f) details of actions and initiatives that are still in place.
Railhub Archive ::: 1999-11-12 ORR-001