The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has written to Network Rail to again express concerns about a backlog of railway structures needing examination. 

First raised as an issue by the ORR in 2021, the organisation has again flagged the importance of completing the necessary examination of infrastructure, such as bridges, tunnels and culverts, to identify any potential faults and thus avoid safety issues further down the line. 

Chief Executive John Larkinson said: “There are over 70,000 structures on the rail network, so we understand the scale of the job of inspecting these assets. Equally, we know this requires clear, robust and systematic examination plans but previous attempts to get on top of the backlog of work have failed. 

Network Rail has accepted the need to do better and it must now deliver against the agreed work plan to clear the backlog.” 

The regulatory body said that whilst there have been some “pockets of good practice”, the overall progress on the issue was limited. 

This lack of progress has also led to further concerns that Network Rail may not be able to comply with its own new standard for structure examination, coming into effect later in 2023. 

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By GlobalData

Another of the issues raised in the letter, addressed to Network Rail’s chief executive Andrew Haines, is the company’s failure to implement the latest available technology, such as drones, in all its regions to help address the backlog. 

Following communication with the ORR however, Network Rail has agreed to provide a roadmap to achieving compliance by the end of June 2023 to be assessed by the ORR before final plans are produced the following August. 

Poor reliability of rail infrastructure was one of the issues pointed to by the ORR last year in its call to Network Rail to improve train performance on its network after a rise of delays attributed to the rail network owner. 

Earlier this year, Network Rail chose four partners to carry out a £9bn renewal project in the southern region including Volker Rail, who will be responsible for track works.