Engineering works

Why planned engineering works can overrun and cause delays – and what we do to help prevent this

Whether we’re maintaining tracks and signals or replacing a bridge as part of larger scale engineering works, we do everything possible to keep disruption to a minimum.

The railway network has over 20,000 miles of track, 40,000 bridges and tunnels, and almost 6,000 level crossings. Because trains run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the maintenance and engineering works that we carry out to ensure a safe and reliable rail network for passengers will always cause some disruption.

Nights, weekends and bank holidays

Most of our planned engineering work happens overnight and at weekends because this minimises disruption to passengers and keeps our workers safe. We are required by law to close a railway line before carrying out work on it.

When we need to change track layouts, update signalling systems or carry out other major engineering works, we have to plan this for bank holidays and close a section of the track for 24 hours. The railway is relatively quiet at this time, so although there is still the inevitable disruption, it does affect fewer people.

Why we carry out work on bank holidays

It’s always a good idea to check before travelling on a bank holiday – journeys can be planned online at National Rail Enquiries.

How we’re preventing delays and responding if works overrun

  • Our engineering projects improve the network: they allow more trains to run, increase the speed that trains can travel at and improve the reliability of the network to reduce future delays. We plan these larger scale works carefully and often years in advance.
  • When an issue does occur, we do everything we can to quickly assess the situation and complete the work so that services can be restored safely and quickly.
  • Sometimes, bad weather, machinery failure or unexpected complications cause a project to overrun. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, we work closely with the train companies to help keep passengers well served with information and provide options for a safe onward journey.
  • We know that when planned works overrun, passengers need clear, up-to-date information. We’re continually working on how we keep passengers updated when things do go wrong, because the works have to be completed before trains can run again.

We know it can be frustrating when engineering works cause a delay, but the reality is that overruns account for only a very small proportion of delays. The below table is taken from February 2015 – February 2016 and shows that engineering overruns were well outside the top 10 causes of delay – at number 23, to be precise.

Main causes of delay: Feb 2015 – Feb 2016

Rank%Cause of delay
116%Train fault or failure
29%Train staff issue
36%Fatalities/injuries via train strike or trespass
45%Track faults
55%Incident on the train (such as passenger injury/illness)
64%Incidents within stations
74%Unexplained
84%Operational signalling issues
94%Technical signalling issues
104%Track circuit failures
231%Engineering overruns