UK rail regulator launches investigation into line closure at short notice

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Virgin Trains Pendolino on the West Coast Main Line; Virgin will be worst affected by the closure.

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), the regulatory authority for Great Britain's railway network, has launched an investigation of Network Rail procedures following a complaint from Virgin Trains regarding over-running engineering works on New Year's Eve.

Network Rail, who are responsible for the British railway infrastructure, have announced that as part of ongoing engineering work to improve the West Coast Main Line, no services will be able to pass through Rugby on December 31.

The closure will affect services operated by Virgin Trains, London Midland and First ScotRail.

Chris Gibb, the Managing Director of Virgin Trains said, "I am very disappointed that Network Rail (NR) has given us so little opportunity to warn our passengers of this further disruption. We were first warned of the possibility of this additional work on 6 December."

"Because of the seriousness of the situation we felt it necessary to refer the matter to the Office of Rail Regulation. We simply cannot have NR bullying train operators in this way just because their engineering planning processes are in a mess."

The company has warned passengers that journeys are likely to be extended by an hour or more in some cases.

Whilst the ORR will be investigating the complaint from Virgin, they have ruled that the work should still go ahead.

A spokesman for Network Rail said, "Work will be ongoing for most of the next year, but the Christmas period is the last major opportunity we have to do key work while passenger numbers are down during the relatively long holiday period.

"It was only realised at the beginning of December that work was falling behind. Rail companies are usually given 12 weeks notice of engineering work. Virgin were told only at the beginning of the month, so that is very late.

"Network Rail is extremely sorry and apologises to passengers for the inconvenience."

According to the company, the engineering works will contribute to enabling increases in service frequencies and reductions in journey times on the West Coast Main Line from December 2008.