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Network Rail are the non-profit organisation who took over control of the United Kingdom's rail network on October 3, 2002. The company is responsible for two-thousand five-hundred stations, twenty-three thousand miles of track and all signals that are situated on it, taking over Railtrack's former responsibilities (as well as their £7.1 billion debt).

Why Network Rail?

Since the 1993 Railway Act was published, the rail network has undergone a number of large changes, mostly in regards to the breaking down of British Rail. Organised by the government in power at the time, the Conversative Party, its intent was to bring more choice and competition by ending British Rail's monopoly over the rail service. Railtrack was separated from British Rail in April 1994, and became a Government-owned company, however, this was not originally planned at the time the Act was passed.

Through the years after the Conservatives' privatisation, the rail network changed drastically. With the increased number of rail operators, not only was there competition, but also increased use of the lines on which their trains ran. The network's shortcomings were soon apparent. Since 1994, there have been 9 major train accidents in the UK, with the Hatfield rail disaster in October 2000 highlighting the downturn in Railtrack's fortunes. As well as being bad press for Railtrack and the network in general, the accidents and awful condition of the tracks pushed the company into costly safety overviews and repairs, crippling the reputation of the rail service. Increased delays and the implimentation of temporary speed restrictions (also known as TSRs) on main lines were then detrimental to rail operators, causing Railtrack to pushed into enormous debt, through compensation claims, turning the company from profitable, to reporting losses of £534million.

With the debts rising and seemingly never-ending, transport secretary at the time, Stephen Byers, decided to put Railtrack into administration. Network Rail has been set up by the government to take control of the rail system, and push profits from running the network back into track maintenance.

Railtrack was sold to Network Rail for the sum of £500 million, of which three-fifths of that sum came from the UK taxpayer.

What do they do?

"Efficient, reliable, safe, excellent."

Network Rail's main job is to maintain the stations across the UK, and the track that connects them. They work together with the now-privatised rail companies, such as GNER and Virgin Trains; and with the rail regulator, the Office of the Rail Regulator, or the ORR.

Their main objectives are as follows:

  • Improved Safety
    One of the most major concerns of the rail service, given the number of accidents over the last few years.
  • Higher Service Performance
    Although improved in recent years, the rail system is still dogged with delays and cancellations, some of which stem from track maintenance.
  • Increased System Capability
  • Improved customer and stakeholder relationships
  • Improved finance control
    After the fiasco that was Railtrack's financial problems, Network Rail's non-profit standpoint should help control financial spending.
  • Better asset stewardship
  • Improved organisational effectiveness

What happens now?

Network Rail have promised 'real' improvements to the rail service within 12 to 24 months, and have insisted that safety will be of upmost importance. However, they will be contending with the abysmal condition of the rail network, as well as the huge number of companies they will have to co-operate with in order to bring the British rail system back up to standard.

Sources:
BBC News - news.bbc.co.uk
Network Rail's website - www.networkrail.com
The Railway Forum - www.railwayforum.com
iGreens - www.igreens.org.uk

Thanks to ascorbic for pointing out this nodeshell, and for giving me something to do on the train on my way up to see 409. And thanks to StrawberryFrog for his helpful comments.

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