A train passenger group today accused rail regulators of "posturing" after they confirmed Network Rail (NR) will have to pay a record £14 million fine for new year engineering work overruns that caused travel chaos.
Passenger Focus was joined by the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) in expressing disappointment that an alternative to the fine was not approved by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR).
NR is a not-for-dividend company which effectively means taxpayers will have to pick up the £14 million tab. NR wanted the fine - first proposed in February - to be set aside and suggested that instead that it spend £14 million on a series of improvements.
But the ORR said today that it remained convinced of "systemic weaknesses" in NR planning and execution of engineering work and that the penalty should stand.
Thousands of rail travellers endured miserable journeys after the overrunning of the Christmas and New Year engineering work on the West Coast Main Line at Rugby in the West Midlands and at Liverpool Street station in London.
Passenger Focus chief executive Anthony Smith said: "Passengers will be extremely disappointed that the ORR and NR could not come to a sensible comprise.
"We brokered a package of passenger improvements, mainly focused on boosting the quality of passenger information, which would have meant some benefit reached passengers from this regulatory action.
"Now £14 million of extra investment has been lost to passengers. Instead of a sensible discussion the posturing by the ORR and NR has resulted in the Treasury benefiting, not passengers. This is not the joined-up railway and joined-up thinking that passengers expect and deserve."
ATOC chief executive Michael Roberts said: "While the ORR has clearly considered this matter seriously, train operators and passengers will find their decision disappointing.
"It represents a missed opportunity to use the money to deliver some real additional improvements to passengers. Instead, we are left with a 'money go round' where money raised from the taxpayer to fund NR is just being ploughed straight back to the Treasury."
NR chief executive Iain Coucher said: "We have already accepted the ORR decision to fine the company £14 million. We had suggested that this sum be invested into the rail network to fund improvements which would benefit passengers, a suggestion supported by many in the industry.
"We are disappointed that this won't happen. However, we accept today's judgment and will be paying the fine shortly. Since the problems at the new year, the company has made significant changes to the way we plan and carry out big improvement work that has already helped to deliver dozens of projects to time and without unplanned impact on passengers and freight users.
"Our focus remains tight as we continue our work building bigger, better, higher-performing railway."
ORR chief executive Bill Emery said: "The (ORR) board considered the representations very carefully. We remain convinced that the systemic weaknesses we have found in NR's approach to the planning and execution of its engineering work are a serious and continuing breach of its licence, meriting a financial penalty.
"We consider that to accept NR's proposal to mitigate the fine in its entirety would reduce the effectiveness of the incentive that penalties place on the company to secure compliance with its licence. We are therefore confirming the penalty of £14 million."