Suffolk: MP calls for fines re-think after regulator threatens Network Rail

A SUFFOLK MP has called for a government re-think on fines for Network Rail after the official regulator announced a crackdown on delays caused by the infrastructure company.

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer is a key member of the group of East Anglian MPs who are calling for major improvements to rail services between the region and London.

He said the Office of Rail Regulation should have new powers to remove bonuses from senior managers, or even reduce their salaries if performances fell – rather fining a state-owned company.

He was speaking after the ORR announced it was planning to introduce a system of fines if NR was responsible for delaying trains.

The ORR said it was “unacceptable” that around 13.7 million passenger journeys on long-distance trains were affected by late or cancelled trains last year. NR is currently achieving a trains-on-time figure of 89.2% on long-distance routes.

The ORR said NR must speed up improvements towards meeting its long-distance services target of 92% in 2013/14.

ORR said if NR failed to deliver the 2013/14 target, it would face “a substantial financial penalty”, with the fine increasing by �1.5 million for every 0.1 percentage point the figure dipped below 92%.

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That would mean that if the current situation continued in two years’ time NR would be fined �42 million.

Mr Gummer said such a fine would have to be paid by passengers through increased fares – or by NR diverting funds which would otherwise be earmarked for other projects.

He said: “The idea of fining a company works when it is in the private sector – when it was Railtrack that would have been okay because shareholders may then have revolted.

“But when it is a government body like Network Rail it is pretty meaningless because the money goes from one department to another – The Treasury.

“It would make much more sense for the ORR to order senior managers to take a pay cut or lose any bonus they had.”

A spokesman for the ORR said they had a number of sanctions they could impose, but fining companies – or at least threatening fines – was at the upper end of penalties.

He said the ORR hoped it would not have to impose any fines, and that the threat would encourage the company to improve its service to rail operators.