Rail chaos will happen again unless we fix the system

9/1/2014 1:15:00 PM

This Christmas, London's trains were paralysed by engineering works which slipped behind schedule. But Network Rail's report ignored deep, systemic problems

Last week the head of Network Rail “unreservedly apologised” for the travel disruptions which hit King’s Cross and other London stations over Christmas. Rail chiefs have been hauled before Parliament, and anofficial report has pledged to do better.

Reading between the lines, however, its solutions are the kind you might offer to a small, single project going off the rails – not to solve wider fundamental problems.

The work regularly undertaken is nothing short of staggering. It occurs on one of the most densely operated railways, in some of the most intensive construction environments in the world, all borne by a still largely Victorian infrastructure. Yet every year we see larger and more complex improvements made to an ever more crowded railway.

That construction overruns happen is hardly surprising. But when they do, as I saw in my time on the railways, it’s usually due to the same set of pressures, out of the hands of the operatives on site. These pressures mean that while safety and quality are critical, time isn’t always accorded the same importance – until it’s too late.

 

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