On a grey morning on January 2 200,000 people, already trying to shrug off
the post-Christmas blues, found themselves stranded on cold station platforms or
sardined into overflowing carriages because Network Rail had failed to complete
engineering work on key lines to schedule.
Network Rail now faces the prospect of fines and penalty charges from rail
regulators and rolling stock operators. If this does materialise, it will be
group finance director Ron Henderson who will have to find the cash to pay up.
The threat of fare strikes and cost overruns from engineering work delays will
no doubt also be preying on Henderson’s mind.
Network Rail had commissioned engineering work on the West Coast Mainline, which
runs between London and Scotland over the Christmas break. The work was meant to
have been done and dusted by New Year’s Eve, but as commuters and travellers
started to make the journey back into the office engineers were still beavering
Sections of the line in the West Midlands were still completely shut on
Thursday last week and the second busiest station in London, Liverpool Street,
was also closed.
The delays and cancellations have been so bad that travel by budget bus has been
suggested as a better mode of transport.
What’s going to happen?
Passengers, who have had to stomach fare increases more than double the rate of
inflation, are furious and thousands of them are planning fare strikes in
Virgin Trains meanwhile, is equally maddened and has reported Network Rail to
the Office of Rail Regulation. This means Network Rail could face multi-million
pound fines to go with the £2.4m penalty it had to cough up last Christmas.
Henderson will the be the one who will have to scrape together the money for
the fine, a tough task when the rail group is already splashing out cash on
delayed station upgrades and track maintenance.
With further engineering work scheduled throughout the rest of the 2008, the
threat of even more delays and subsequent penalties continues to hang gloomily
over the Network Rail FD.
It is barely a week into 2008 and already Henderson is having an unhappy New
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