Improving Network Rail performance

I took this job last summer because I'm passionate about what the railway can do for people, the economy and society. Coming back into this industry after 10 years away, I have been reminded of the thousands of dedicated employees committed to doing their best for passengers and freight users every day. But despite their hard work and endeavour, the service we deliver too often falls short. That is why I have put improving performance for both passengers and freight at the top of my agenda as Network Rail chief executive.

Passengers want train services they can rely on. People want trains that take them where they want to go, on time. But despite the huge investment in rail which has delivered capacity upgrades, new rolling stock and improved asset reliability, this is the seventh year in a row that performance has declined.

To find the last high point for train performance, we have to go back to the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. And I take a lesson from that: together, we were able to put on a phenomenal show because we were focused, we were committed, and we were willing to move heaven and earth to make sure we delivered. That behaviour, that mindset, has got to become the new normal for us to deliver better journeys for the millions of people who rely on us every day.

Because Network Rail is not just an engineering firm or a projects company. We exist to provide a service to passengers, to freight and to the country. And we are judged on the standard of service we deliver, day in and day out. As chief executive I am determined to bring about a service mindset across our business, putting passengers back at the heart of all our thinking and decision-making.

This also means refocusing on the basics. I think, for example, one of the big reasons behind the decline in performance is that rail operations as a profession has not been cultivated and valued enough. Rail operations is a profession that has the expertise and oversight of the whole system. Rebuilding that capability will mean we can recover more quickly when there are problems on the railway, and get services back up and running as soon as possible.

It's something I'm determined to fix in my own organisation and I'll be encouraging other industry leaders to do the same. We need operators with top-notch competence and experience, excellent leadership skills and a system-overview that enables them to work effectively together to deliver the best outcome for passengers.

I make no apology for concentrating initially on the here and now. I believe we are at a moment of crisis and opportunity for Britain's railways. How we deliver for passengers and regenerate ourselves over the next few years will more than anything else determine our future success.

That's why we must seize the once-in-a-generation opportunity that The Williams Rail Review provides to take a fresh look and establish how we can better align the whole industry to make a real, positive difference for the millions of people who use the railways every day.

I look forward to discussing these important issues at the UK Rail Summit in a weeks time.

The UK Rail Summit is taking place on 13 March in London. There are limited tickets still available. You can view the full agenda and book here.