Cor – us Brits, eh? When it’s not the weather we’re complaining about, it’s football. And if it’s not that, it’s the trains. Although it turns out that on that count, we have good reason to whine: the Office of Rail Regulation has just fined Network Rail a record £53.1m for falling ‘significantly behind’ punctuality targets.
If we're honest, this is entirely a crowd-pleaser: whether the money is in Network Rail's coffers or the ORR's, at the end of the day it's all Treasury cash.
But who are we to rain on commuters' parade? Late trains (only 87% ran on time in 2013-14, way less than its 92% target) aren’t the rail company's only transgression, though: according to the ORR, it’s also failed to deliver the improvements it promised, and wasn’t aware of the condition of some of its most important assets.
As is its wont, Network Rail stared at its shoes, shuffled its feet and muttered an apology, before pointing out that it’s not its fault, yeah, because the number of passengers has increased so much (1.5 billion in 2013-14, up from 1.2 billion) that it’s having to focus on running more services, ‘even when we know this will lead to a more congested railway and punctuality targets may suffer’. Yeah, yeah. Tell that to someone who cares (or at least someone who doesn’t spend three hours a day face-to-armpit on a train).
The good news is that, according to the BBC, the ORR will spend some of the money it gets from the fine on improving wifi on commuter trains across England and Wales. The regulator is planning to spend £40m on providing faster internet (or, indeed, 'some' internet) on its infrastructure. And it won't be train company specific, as it is now: the technology will be provided along the track, rather than being beamed from satellites. So when we're stranded for hours because of signalling problems, at least we'll have something to keep us occupied...