The UK’s rail regulator has welcomed a recorded recovery of the reliability of passenger trains, but said there is much more to do to ensure consistent passenger and freight services. 

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR)’s chief executive John Larkinson wrote a letter to UK rail network operator Network Rail to praise the 1.5% increase to 69.2% in the number of passenger trains running on time for Q3 2023 compared to the same period in 2022. 

Despite this, Larkinson’s mid-year review of Network Rail also said that it would be investigating the lack of equivalent recovery in the Wales and Western region and highlighted that freight performance was still below the regulatory floor of 92.5%, reaching 88.1% during the most recent period. 

He said: “In the last months of the control period, Network Rail needs to continue to focus on delivering performance recovery actions, not least as it embeds its new maintenance organisation across the country. 

“The System Operator must embrace its role as [an] industry leader, working with train operators to improve the resilience of the timetable and to realise the potential benefits of existing innovative approaches.” 

However, though it was focusing on the network owner, the ORR also called on UK rail operators to play their part, pointing out that more than half of cancelled trains are due to train operator issues. 

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As part of its recommendations to the UK rail industry, the regulator outlined five areas where further attention could help alleviate issues with train reliability. 

These areas included: improving timetables; developing a consistent approach to the use of temporary speed restrictions; controlling incidents more effectively, including empowering controllers to make dynamic decisions; utilising the Industry Train Service Recovery programme; and using accurate analysis to better invest in important areas. 

Feras Alshaker, director of planning and performance at the ORR, said the data published by the regulator showed that passengers in some regions were still experiencing inconsistency with train schedules and high levels of cancellations. 

He said: “However, we are beginning to see signs of improvement in Network Rail’s contribution. While these improvements are promising, they aren’t consistent, and as our analysis shows, the company can do much more to ensure that Britain’s railway provides a reliable and punctual service for all its users.” 

The ORR’s call for Network Rail to do more on train reliability is just the latest advice for the industry from the regulator which has previously called for rail operators to ensure ticket notifications are clearer for customers, and said more could be done on climate change and worker health in the sector.