January 2024 newsletter | Office of Rail and Road

Hello and welcome to the January newsletter. 

The weather and Christmas getaway brought challenges for both our strategic roads network and the railway. The performance teams I lead across highways and rail have been monitoring things carefully, including the disruption passengers faced on the route to the Channel Tunnel, High Speed One both before and after Christmas in separate incidents.

2024 sees our periodic review of High Speed One Ltd. and as part of our work we will be closely looking at the network’s performance, including in the light of these incidents . We are also working, jointly with Transport Focus, on a project to help us better understand passengers’ experiences in these sorts of incidents  and determine if the rail industry is sufficiently focused on meeting passengers’ needs when trains get stuck or stranded.

Last month also saw us reporting on several months’ work on safety on the English strategic roads network, plus our latest analysis of the performance of Network Rail across the UK. Regarding the latter, in November we opened an investigation into Network Rail’s poor performance in the Western and Wales region. Thanks to all those of you who have contributed to our work. We have widened the scope of this investigation to take account of any lessons learnt from the significant disruption to very many passengers in December when trains were stranded, after one became entangled in fallen overhead wires, and there was a separate spate of broken rails in the region.  

This region apart, however, in the last year Network Rail has begun to improve its part in the day-to-day running of passenger and freight services. This follows the company putting in place regional performance improvement plans as requested by ORR.  While we’ve welcomed the initial recovery, we’ve also pointed out there is much more still to do to ensure consistent delivery of train services for passengers and freight across the country.

More than half of cancelled trains are the result of train operator related reasons, but we nevertheless want to see Network Rail leading the whole industry in improving the processes that underpin punctuality and reliability. This includes making widespread use of innovative projects that the NR and industry partners have developed, with public funding, to improve timetabling.

A busy year lies ahead, and I thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Feras AlshakerDirector, Planning and Performance, ORR

Top stories

Online ticket retailers warned to be up front about fees

We have asked online ticket retailers[1] to review how they present their fees when customers are buying tickets online, following a review which identified concerns with ‘drip pricing’, that is when consumers are shown an initial price for their service but additional fees are revealed later in the sales process.

ORR has written to seven third-party retailers, highlighting our concerns and asking for details on how they will address the findings. ORR plans to publish its letters and the retailers’ responses on our website and will consider any next steps accordingly.

Stephanie Tobyn, ORR director of strategy, policy and reform, said: "We want to ensure consumers are provided with timely and relevant information when making purchase decisions and that drip pricing does not undermine consumer confidence when buying rail tickets online."

We have called for greater competition in railway station catering

We have found that the railway station catering market[2] is not working as effectively as it should be. Greater competition in this market would drive better value for passengers and for taxpayers. Our report finds that the features of the railway station catering market may also contribute to an average 10% price premium at stations compared to the high street.

Our investigation is continuing, and the next stage will focus on what recommendations should be made to government, station operators, funders and other stakeholders to improve the functioning of the market.

Richard Hines to succeed Ian Prosser CBE as Chief Inspector of Railways

In December, we announced[3] that one of our current deputy chief inspectors, although with a lengthy career in engineering and safety outside ORR, will succeed Ian Prosser CBE as HM Chief Inspector of Railways. Richard Hines, who currently heads up the team of ORR’s non-mainline health and safety inspectors and oversees the regulator’s responsibilities on the Channel Tunnel, was appointed after an open and well-publicised recruitment in which there was considerable interest from a strong field of candidates with wide and diverse backgrounds.

In becoming director of railway safety, Richard will join the Board at ORR and will also head up HM Railway Inspectorate, an integral part of ORR since 2006.  He becomes the 26th HM Chief Inspector of Railways in the Inspectorate’s 183-year-old history.

Safety improves on the strategic road network, but we have called on National Highways to make further targeted improvements

In December we released our second annual report on safety on the strategic road network in England. Our analysis is that since the 2005 to 2009 average baseline safety has improved, with a 38% reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured, but National Highways is off course to meet its 2025 target and we have required National Highways to produce a robust plan setting out how it aims to meet the target.

The report also looks into smart motorways, after we raised concerns last year on stopped vehicle detection technology. Our report shows improvements in performance, but because the method National Highways used to measure improvement has changed, we want the company to set out a clearly documented methodology for measuring and better understanding stopped vehicle detection performance for its next round of testing, in 2024.

Train punctuality and cancellations remain challenging but Network Rail starting to improve train performance

Our latest passenger rail performance statistics[4] released in December show Britain’s railway is still not delivering consistently punctual and reliable journeys. In the latest quarter (1 July to 30 September 2023), 69.2% of passenger trains were on time, up 1.5% on the same quarter last year. Against a background of industrial action, the level of cancellations remains high, at 3.5% of passenger services, although slightly better (down 0.6%) compared with the same quarter last year.All change for most-used stations as Elizabeth line shakes up top 10

In December, we revealed[5] that London Liverpool Street has replaced London Waterloo as the most used railway station in Great Britain. The opening of the Elizabeth line was a principal contributing factor in the almost 80.4 million entries and exits to Liverpool Street between 1 April 2022 and 31 March 2023, an increase of around 50 million journeys. Outside of London, Birmingham New Street was the most used station with 30.7 million entries and exits.

ORR authorises new stations at Brent Cross West and East Linton

Brent Cross West[6], London’s newest mainline station, has opened after we authorised it into service on December 10th. The station has four platforms, step-free access from street level to the platforms and a footbridge connecting the station building to its two entrance buildings. Brent Cross West is on the Midland Main Line, and serves Thameslink trains which run services from Bedford and Cambridge to Brighton, Sutton and Rainham, including connections to St Pancras International and Gatwick and Luton Airports.

The new East Linton station[7] is on the East Coast Main Line with connections to Edinburgh Waverley, Dunbar, Newcastle and more. We have worked alongside Network Rail throughout the project to ensure that the station meets expected standards for passengers.


In his blog[8], ORR accessibility policy manager, Matt Westlake, discusses what he has learnt in the two years he’s been in his role and the barriers disabled people face and the levels of confidence they feel when travelling by rail.

Matt with Alan Benson MBE who sadly passed away in December. Alan was deputy chair of London Travelwatch and a tireless campaigner for access for disabled people.


The Rail and Road Pod Episode 19: Authorisations - Giving The Green Light 

In this episode[9], we take a look at our role in helping stations and trains into service. New, major, upgraded or renewed infrastructure and rolling stock applicants follow a framework and seek an authorisation from the ORR before placing new or upgraded infrastructure or rolling stock into service.

In this podcast we learn about the path to applying for authorisation and the role the ORR plays to help the applicants, such as those who oversaw the upgraded Gatwick Airport and Castleford stations, East Linton and Brent Cross West, London's newest mainline station.

You can catch up on our previous episode, Inside Highways UK 2023[10] and all other episodes on our website. 



  1. ^ Rail regulator warns online ticket retailers to be up front about fees (www.orr.gov.uk)
  2. ^ Rail Regulator calls for greater competition in railway station catering (www.orr.gov.uk)
  3. ^ Richard Hines to succeed Ian Prosser CBE next year as Chief Inspector of Railways (www.orr.gov.uk)
  4. ^ latest passenger rail performance statistics (dataportal.orr.gov.uk)
  5. ^ All change for most used stations as Elizabeth line shakes up top 10 (www.orr.gov.uk)
  6. ^ Brent Cross West opens after ORR authorisation (www.orr.gov.uk)
  7. ^ new East Linton station (www.orr.gov.uk)
  8. ^ Accessibility has improved for disabled passengers but more must be done (www.orr.gov.uk)
  9. ^ The Rail and Road Pod Episode 19: authorisations - giving the green light (www.orr.gov.uk)
  10. ^ The Rail and Road Pod Episode 20: Inside Highways UK 2023 (www.orr.gov.uk)