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Rail regulator fines Network Rail £53m for falling 'significantly short' on punctuality — to fund free wireless internet

Rail unions RMT, TSSA and Aslef slam 'money merry go-round' for taking away cash that could be used to fund improvements

Rail unions were left seething yesterday after coalition beancounters clawed back more than £53 million from Network Rail to subsidise free wifi.

The Office of Rail Regulators chief executive Richard Price said it had levied the £53.1m fine in light of Network Rail falling “significantly short” of punctuality targets — with all cash earmarked for boosting wifi signals on private operators’ trains.

The body reported 86.9 per cent of long-distance services arriving on time last year, against a target of 92 per cent.

“(Network Rail) fell significantly short of punctuality for long-distance services, so it is right that money is returned to funders (the Treasury),” Mr Price said.

Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne said his board accepted the decision.

But union leaders railed against the decision. The Rail Maritime and Transport union acting general secretary Mick Cash had already condemned ministers on the eve of the announcement for extracting cash at the expense of “critical” safety and maintenance budgets.

And Transport Salaried Staff Association general secretary Manuel Cortes described the affair yesterday as “yet another example of the crazy money merry-go-round that is at the heart of our fragmented rail industry.”

Meanwhile train drivers’ union Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said the clawback would leave even less money to make amends.

He said: “There could hardly be a better time for a future government, looking to build a British railway fit for the 21st century, to recognise that privatisation hasn’t worked, that it is a flawed, and failed, model and to bring the railways back into public ownership where every penny and every pound can be spent on investing in our infrastructure rather than disappearing into private pockets.”

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