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  • Our history

    In October 2002, Network Rail took over the running of Britain’s rail infrastructure with a mandate from the Government to improve the safety, reliability and efficiency of the railway

  • When we took responsibility for the rail network on 28 October 2002 the immediate priorities were clear: restoring public confidence in the safety of the railway, reducing the number of late trains – at the time almost a quarter were late, and bringing costs under control.

    Sustained renewals programme

    Despite the money being spent, the railway was still suffering from a lack of investment. So, with support from the Government, we set about a massive and sustained programme of renewing track, signals, power and telecoms equipment.

    Bringing maintenance in-house

    Other pressing issues included the need to create a single way of working across the Company, rather than having the same task done differently in different parts of the country, and the need to bring maintenance into the Company rather than contracting it out.

    When maintenance was brought in-house in 2004 it was the biggest single change of our first five years, almost doubling the number of employees.

    Standard ways of working

    It brought many benefits, including new standardised ways of working and economies of scale. The underlying approach also changed – from “find and fix” to “predict and prevent”, ie predicting where problems were likely to happen before they happened and preventing them before they caused delay to passengers. This was supported by the introduction of new technology, notably the New Measurement Train.


    Equal importance and effort was attached to investing in our people. The Advanced Apprenticeship Scheme was established which is now the largest of such schemes in the country. We also set up a partnership with Warwick Business School to develop future leaders, run from our leadership centre at Westwood.


    More joint working with the rest of the industry, notably with train operators in integrated control centres, has helped improve punctuality.

    Route Utilisation Strategies

    From 2005 we also took on responsibility for planning for the future, principally through the Route Utilisation Strategies which, in partnership with the rest of the industry, set out strategies for the network over coming decades.

    A success story

    Today, rail is a success story. Over the past 20 years passengers numbers have more than doubled, with more than 4.5 million people using Britain's railway every day. It is the fastest-growing and safest railway in Europe. But with that success comes challenges, as not since the 1920s has the railway carried as many people as it does today. And back then the network was twice as big, so there wasn't the challenge of daily congestion that we face today. 

    In the last ten years Network Rail has almost halved the cost of running Britain's railway, driven up its asset reliability to record levels and significantly improved train punctuality – but there is still much  more for us to do.

    Growing the railway

    Our initial priorities – improved safety and punctuality, and reduced costs – remain as important as ever. However, we will also in the midst of one of the biggest investment programmes since the Victorian era, with almost £25 billion being invested between 2014 and 2019 to grow the railway. Projects such as the Thameslink Programme, the Reading redevelopment and the Borders Railway project, along with thousands of smaller projects, will mean a bigger, better, brighter railway for the people and businesses who rely on it every day.

    Delivering the capacity the railway needs in the coming decades, while continuing to improve the service provided to those people and companies that rely on rail, is a challenge that we have readily accepted.

  • Key facts

    Close up shot of a maintenance worker

    We operate, maintain and invest in Britain’s rail network:

    • 20,000 miles of track (and infrastructure)
    • 32,000 bridges and tunnels
    • 18 major stations – more than half of all passenger journeys start or finish at one of them
    • 2,500 other stations - leased to train operators
    • 8,200 commercial properties
    Angled shot of Paddington station platform showing station roof

    Passenger miles are greater than at any time in the last 60 years:

    • Freight traffic has increased dramatically since privatisation - our network now carries 28 billion tonne kilometres of freight a year
    • Britain has the fastest growing railway in Europe
    • Rail is the safest form of public transport in Britain
    • Rail is one of the best options for a greener journey with lower emissions than road or air travel