Elsenham station, Essex

What the Transport Committee should ask Network Rail

This afternoon Network Rail’s relatively new chief executive, Mark Carne, will be appearing before the Transport select committee in the House of Commons. Here is what the MPs should ask him.

The words “callous disregard” rang out and reverberated when the Transport select committee published its report on safety at level crossings in March. The committee was very critical of Network Rail, not just because it failed to do what it was supposed to do to maintain public safety but because of the way it treated bereaved families.

Network Rail’s immediate response was to put its brand new chief executive, Mark Carne, all over the media. He offered the company’s full apologies for what had happened. The company’s slower time response to the report took several steps backwards (see blog post here). Subsequently the company has announced £50,000 bonuses for its top staff.

Earlier this year the Lord Chief Justice of England & Wales, handing down judgment in Network Rail’s appeal against a fine in the Beccles case, said:

If, as is accepted by the board of Network Rail, a bonus incentivises an executive director to perform better, the prospect of a significant reduction of a bonus will incentivise the executive directors on the board of companies such as Network Rail to pay the highest attention to protecting the lives of those who are at real risk from its activities. In short, it will demonstrate to the court the company’s efforts, at the level of those ultimately responsible, to address its offending behaviour, to reform and rehabilitate itself and to protect the public.

Here are some questions for Mr Carne:

1. The transport committee’s report on safety at level crossings specifically raised concerns about executive directors receiving any bonus this year, given the failings identified. Why does Network Rail defy this committee?

2. Do you agree with Robin Gisby, who told this committee that Network Rail had previously been negligent in its management of level crossings?

3. Do you accept that Network Rail’s unsuccessful appeal against the ruling in the Beccles case, where a young boy sustained life-changing injuries, demonstrates the company’s culpability for a catastrophic incident?

4. How is the award of any bonuses to senior management compatible with your “management incentive plan”, which states that:

Recognising that safety is Network Rail’s number one priority, in the event of a catastrophic accident for which Network Rail was culpable no annual bonus would be payable to any Network Rail Executive Director.

5. Why has your remuneration committee apparently violated its own rules and proposed £50,000 bonuses, even though they are lower than in previous years? [Hopefully he won’t dodge that with “That’s a question for them”]

6. If you were a director, would you turn down all of the bonus?

7. What powers does the Network Rail’s forthcoming meeting of members have to overturn the remuneration committee’s proposed bonuses? (The AGM is scheduled for 18 July 2014.)

 

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