Network Rail chiefs condemned by MPs
Daily Telegraph: 21/07/2008
By Richard Edwards
Network Rail chiefs took "quite extraordinary" bonuses despite an "entire catalogue of management failings" which caused misery for passengers, according to a scathing parliamentary report.
Engineers work on the West Coast Main line at Rugby
Thousands were hit by rail disruption over the the New Year after engineering work scheduled for the Christmas period overran
The heads of the infrastructure company were condemned for their "widespread complacency" and for sharing more than £700,000 in bonuses that added "insult to injury" for "long-suffering passengers who had to struggle with the consequences of the company's failings".
It comes after a fiasco over the New Year when over-running engineering works at Rugby, Liverpool Street and Glasgow Shields Junction disrupted more than 60,000 passengers a day.
The House of Commons Transport Committee said the overruns were "simply unacceptable" and had "laid bare an entire catalogue of management failings for all to see".
"Chaos ensued", said the report, which left passengers "humiliated and inconvenienced".
The company was fined a record £14 million by the regulator for the delays.
Despite that, Iain Coucher, the chief executive, pocketed a £305,581 annual bonus on top of his £539,000 salary and a long-term incentive payment of £205,000, taking his total pay last year to more than £1 million.
Three executive directors received annual bonuses in excess of £200,000 each – just 14 per cent less than the maximum they could have received.
The report published today (mon) called for changes to "prevent generous bonuses being handed out for good performance in some areas against a background of catastrophic failure in others."
It was also critical of the Government for failing to act earlier on Network Rail's failings. The Committee called for a review of the way the company is run, criticising the lack of clear procedures, consistency, communication and management controls.
The MPs were also critical of Network Rail chairman Sir Ian McAllister.
"We fear that the lack of a sense of urgency manifested by the chairman over the new year period, as well as when he appeared before us, is symptomatic of widespread complacency within Network Rail," the report said.
MPs said communication within the company and between it and the train companies was "seriously deficient" and this had serious consequences for passengers.
The committee also said it was "deeply concerned that the rapid shift away from taxpayer contributions and towards passengers paying a significantly larger share of the cost of running the railways will be detrimental to passengers and future of the railways alike".
On the future of railways, the report said that it was "deeply disappointing" that the Government had "dodged the decision" on building new high-speed rail lines in a recent White Paper.
It said ministers should consider them seriously and added that more electrification should take place. A promised 1,300 new train carriages was welcome but was unlikely to relieve overcrowding significantly due to the growth in passenger numbers, it said.
Labour MP Louise Ellman, who chaired the committee, said: "The railways are increasingly popular and the (Government's) 30-year strategy has the potential to provide a tremendous sense of purpose and direction. However, the White Paper lacks vision and represents a missed opportunity."
Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Norman Baker said yesterday: "The Government's abject failure to plan for a high-speed rail network has condemned passengers to years more misery and overcrowding.
"Delays, slow trains, endless replacement bus services and out-dated working practices have created cattle-truck Britain while other countries have created modern, efficient railways.
"Travellers should be encouraged to choose public transport, but they are being given little reason to ditch their polluting cars. Momentum is clearly gathering for a high-speed rail network, but yet again the Government is being left behind on the platform."
The report came as rail passengers were bracing themselves for a month of delays in August as vital engineering work is carried out on one of Britain's busiest routes.
Services on the West Coast main line will be hit by work in the West Midlands and North West as track upgrading work is carried out. Work is also being done on Central Trains' routes in the East Midlands and East Anglia.
Travellers face delays and buses replacing trains on services to and through towns and cities including Birmingham, Manchester, Coventry, and Stoke-on-Trent, plus connections from the North to Stansted Airport.