'Flawed data' for scheduling lands Network Rail £2m fine

High speed train
Network Rail have budgeted £337 million for IT between 2014 and 2019

Network Rail’s 'flawed data' for timetable modelling contributed to delays that cost the rail operator £2 million in fines from a watchdog, announced this week.

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Network Rail’s timetables were affected by “flawed data” that caused severe delays, costing the railway operator £2 million in fines.

Following an investigation, the railway regulator found “there were serious weaknesses in the data which informed the new timetables.

“For example, a number of the timetable modelling assumptions made were incorrect as they were based on flawed data."

The Office for Rail and Road opened an enquiry into the network’s performance between 2014 and 2015 following passenger complaints.

It found the owner and operator of Britain’s rail infrastructure "did not do everything reasonably practicable to deliver the reliability and punctuality needed for train services," on its Southern, Thameslink and Scotland railways - mainly due to the development and implementation of timetables.

It said its data “weaknesses” caused “very severe disruptions and frustrations for customers”.

Delays highlighted by the regulator were exacerbated by renovations at London Bridge station, which began in January and will continue for another three years.

The firm previously caused outrage after an algorithm developed to divert passengers when the engineering disruptions began hiked online fare prices – some to double the usual cost.

National Rail, Southeastern and Thameslink were affected until the issue was rectified by the website’s contractor, Atos.

In response to the proposed fines announced yesterday, Phil Hufton, managing director of network operations at Network Rail, said it had invested “over £11 million” to improve performance for Southern and Thameslink passengers.

This includes revised timetables, improved equipment as well as new information screens and better passenger data.

He added passenger service reliability had improved by almost 12 percent since January. Network Rail will not have to pay the fine if it provides compensation for affected passengers, the regulator said. 

Ongoing IT projects on UK railways

The news of the multi-million fine comes as Network Rail is undergoing a £38 billion, five-year investment programme to transform the country’s railway by providing more trains, reducing congestion and improving stations.

This includes plans to introduce a train control technology that removes the need for line-side signalling systems and enables more trains to use the tracks, as well as a dedicated fibre optic IP network.

The ambitious three-year project also includes a traffic management control system, mobile apps and temperature sensors across 23,000 miles of track, and drones to capture high definition photos of the railway for improved maintenance.

It also announced a "multi-million pound contract" to implement ClickSoftware’s workforce management and rostering system, implemented by outsourcer Capgemini UK in July last year.

The automated tool was planned to minimise delays and disruptions for 15,000 maintenance workers including signalling staff. It is not clear whether this software had been deployed prior to the regulator’s investigation.

The firm said it intended to spend £337 million on IT between 2014 and 2019.

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