If you’ve ever wondered why the West Coast Main line seems subject to so much engineering work, the answer’s simple.
Network Rail has until the end of the year to complete improvements designed to give us a faster and more reliable service.
But it’s struggling to meet the deadline – and has spent 12 months in a desperate attempt to get the work completed to schedule.
Now, Virgin Trains has delivered its verdict and predicted that work will have to continue into next year.
In the meantime, the train company is reluctant to make improvements to its own services, such as increasing trains between Birmingham and London to three-per-hour.
If it tried to upgrade services before the infrastructure was up to scratch, the result could be even more breakdowns and delays, according to Virgin chief executive Tony Collins.
Network Rail will no doubt be pilloried in some quarters if Virgin’s prediction comes true.
In fact, it would deserve to be, after its faltering response to catastrophic problems on its lines at the start of the year, and the decision to pay massive bonuses to directors while commuters experience lousy services.
But let’s not be tempted to look back on a golden age of rail which never existed. Network Rail can at least say it does a better job than Railtrack, the body it replaced.
And the nation hardly saw British Rail as a source of pride when it was a monolithic state-run body.
Network Rail needs to salvage its reputation by getting these track improvements right.
It could even consider taking a leaf from Virgin’s book and accepting that some things take longer than expected.
Any delay would lead to criticism, but it would be better than trying to rush engineering work and failing to do it properly.