Network Rail’s chief executive has refused to say whether he will take a bonus this year as he promised to publish an internal inquiry into Christmas rail chaos caused by overrunning engineering work.
The bonus for Mark Carne, who is under fire for being on holiday at the time of the disruption, could be no larger than £33,000 because of the company’s performance.
He said he agreed with the transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, that the industry should conduct a wider review into whether it is wise to try to concentrate so much engineering work into the Christmas or Easter period on the basis that fewer people travel during those times.
Robin Gisby, Network Rail’s managing director of operations, who was responsible for the engineering overruns that caused the cancellation of all trains in and out London King’s Cross on Saturday, is to forfeit a golden goodbye.
Gisby was earmarked to receive a bonus of up to £371,000, but Network Rail said he would be leaving in February without any additional payment beyond that stipulated in his contract.
A Network Rail spokesman said neither the forfeiture of the bonus nor the timing of his departure was related to the weekend chaos. It was already known that Gisby would leave the company in 2015 but not the exact timing.
Carne was in Cornwall on holiday when 11,000 engineers were undertaking the repair work. He is on a salary of £675,000.
Speaking on BBC Radio he said his bonus could not be higher than £135,000 in any year, adding he had published every quarter the performance levels on which awards could be judged. Those performance levels this year “have failed to live up to the expectations the public would have had”, he said.
“The maximum bonus at the moment I would be likely to get 5% of my salary and is a matter for the remuneration committee to consider at the appropriate time. By reducing the bonus from 160% to 30% we have taken some significant steps hopefully to defuse the bonus issue.”
He said he believed there were more important issues to discuss than his bonus, and refused to answer further questions on the issue, saying he was waiting to talk about the railway.
Carne said more than £200m of work had been undertaken in 300 projects across the rail network, and “not all of these have gone to plan and there has been enormous disruption”.
He said he instructed the infrastructure director to undertake a comprehensive review of what happened at King’s Cross and Paddington – whose train services were disrupted by a signal failure. That review would also look at the decision-making during the critical hours while that work was being carried out.
Promising that review would be published, Carne made it clear that responsibility lay with Network Rail projects team.
He said there was never a good time to carry out the essential maintenance work. He accepted that Christmas is a sensitive time, but said the number people travelling by train during the festive period was half that of a normal working week.
In a separate statement, he said: “The events over the Christmas period highlighted the unacceptable impact on the travelling public when plans go wrong … We have an obligation to manage the essential safety maintenance and renewal activity that is required and we need to do this in a manner that minimises the overall impact on society at large. I will discuss this review with industry parties in the coming days before formalising the terms of reference for this review.”
It is understood that contractors failed to provide the needed engineering drivers and this led to some of the delays north of King’s Cross.
Travellers were told to use Finsbury Park instead, but there were chaotic scenes at the north London station which was temporarily closed owing to overcrowding. Angry travellers vented their frustration on social media and politicians joined in the condemnation ,with McLoughlin describing the situation as “totally unacceptable”.
On Saturday, Gisby apologised for the problems but defended the decisions that led to King’s Cross being closed.
Previous pleas from politicians and the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) for the Network Rail remuneration committee to take into account poor performance have largely been ignored. But paying Gisby a bonus of more than £300,000 after the latest problems would have been likely to lead to an outcry.
Louise Ellman, the Labour MP and chair of the transport select committee, has said she is likely to summon Network Rail executives to explain what happened, including the nature of the planning undertaken and whether enough senior staff had been at work to oversee the repairs.
The ORR could, as it has previously, fine Network Rail for overrunning engineering work but customers could end up footing the bill through increased rail fares.
There were further delays on the rail network on Monday, as many people returned to work after the Christmas break.
In East Anglia, where passengers have been plagued by problems over recent weeks, a broken-down train meant there was no service between Ipswich and Felixstowe, with buses having to operate in the morning rush-hour instead.
Another major engineering project over Christmas involved the part-closure of the west coast main line between Euston, London, and Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire.
The line opened on time on Monday, but by mid-morning passengers faced delays of up to 40 minutes owing to a signalling problem at Wembley Central in north-west London. Customers of the Virgin Trains, London Midland, London Overground and Southern train companies were affected as a result.
There were also holdups owing to signalling problems between Bedford and Bletchley and between Selhurst, Norwood Junction and West Croydon in south London.
Another south London problem in the shape of emergency engineering works between Clapham Junction and Earlsfield meant disruption to a number of services in and out of Waterloo.
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