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Network Rail to review Balfour Beatty JV following Christmas rail chaos

A Balfour Beatty and Alstom joint venture mistakenly told Network Rail that vital signalling work had been adequately tested several hours before it had actually been completed, contributing to chaos on the railways over Christmas.

Network Rail has said it will undertake a “thorough review” of the work processes of the Signalling Solutions (SSL) JV after the mistake forced the extended closure of Paddington station on 27 December.

Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne will face MPs later this week to answer questions over the Christmas delays, which left thousands of passengers stranded at King’s Cross and Paddington, with some queuing for up to two hours outside having been told to use nearby stations.

An internal review of the incident sparked by two overrunning jobs, one near each of the two stations, found that problems with testing new equipment installed by SSL at Old Oak Common, near Paddington, was the catalyst for the delays at the west London terminal.

While train operators were given 14 hours’ notice of the overrun of work at King’s Cross, being undertaken by an Amey and Sersa JV, none was given at Paddington.

The review, carried out by Network Rail’s managing director of infrastructure projects Francis Paonessa, said  of the Paddington incident that the “lack of warning that this work was delayed and frequent changes to the forecast completion time made it difficult to plan an effective train service.”

The review continued: “SSL are a key supplier to Network Rail on a number of contracts, so their work management processes that led to the incorrect conclusion that the signalling testing of the main lines was complete will be thoroughly reviewed by SSL and Network Rail staff.”

A spokesperson for SSL said: “SSL welcomes this report and is continuing to work with Network Rail to consider how we can avoid similar issues arising in future.

“The main issue at Paddington related to vital safety checks being carried out on the signalling systems that ran late for a number of reasons.

“We obviously apologise to everyone affected by the delay but would stress that the safety and well-being of passengers was our paramount consideration at all times.”

Mr Carne apologised for the delays at both stations, but added that “being sorry is not enough” and stressed that “a number of improvements must be made”.

He also raised the possibility of ending the practice of carrying out extensive engineering work over holiday periods.

“The timing of these events, over the Christmas holidays, has also made us question traditional thinking,” said Mr Carne in the foreword to the report.

“While our industry has historically seen the ‘quieter times’ of railway use as the natural time to carry out essential project works, I believe that it is appropriate to challenge some of this thinking. Passengers who use the railway during holidays to connect with friends and family also deserve reliable and predictable services.”

A second independent review into the disruption has already been commissioned and will report its findings through the Rail Delivery Group.

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