The UK’s Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has published its track access dashboard for the first time, aiming to encourage accountability for the rail industry to use the UK’s network more efficiently. 

The dashboard features information from across the rail industry collated by the regulator that shows new requests for access to the rail network, when access applications were submitted, and what capacity was scheduled for use in recent timetables. 

Stephanie Tobyn, director of strategy, policy and reform for the ORR, said: “Efficient use of network capacity is important for an affordable railway and robust timetables are fundamental if passengers are going to be able to travel with confidence.  

“We’ve worked with the rail industry to increase clarity and transparency in these important areas and in doing so, we’re supporting improvement in how rail network capacity is used and timetables are planned in the interest of passengers.”  

Information highlighted by the ORR in its first release shows that the December 2023 timetable planned to use 84% of the UK rail network’s capacity while around 64% of new access applications were submitted after the industry deadline to publish the timetable. 

As highlighted by Tobyn, the ORR said that late submissions of access applications limit the time the regulator has to analyse the impacts of their approval and increases the risk that the final timetable will underperform for passengers. 

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In addition to overall numbers, the access dashboard also allows for a view on the regions with the most track access applications, with the North West and Central network leading by far with 257 cases in 2023, significantly above the next highest region, the Southern network, which saw 106 cases last year. 

In addition to providing more options for accountability, the ORR said it hoped that by releasing the information publicly, rail operators and Network Rail would use the data to improve the efficiency of their service planning, introduce new services where needed, and release access rights to routes that they no longer require. 

The ORR’s call to improve network efficiency continues the regulator’s push for the UK’s rail operators, and specifically Network Rail, to improve rail services. 

In December 2023 the body wrote to Network Rail to highlight five areas for improvement that could raise train reliability figures in the UK, including improving timetables and controlling incidents more effectively.