NETWORK Rail Scotland executives have been warned they face having their earnings slashed if they do not resolve issues which have seen delays caused on Scotland’s railways by maintenance and other line faults reach a five year high.

The regulator, the Office of Rail and Road says it now typically takes an hour and 41 minutes to deal with infrastructure issues such as signal faults and track disrepair - nearly half an hour longer than five years ago.

The typical delay time for dealing with a rail issue was 73 minutes in 2013/14, but it has risen to 101 minutes in 2018/19.

It comes as it spent £651m on its operations in 2018-19 - £64m more than the previous year. Much of that was down to a £30m (23%) increase in spending on maintenance.

READ MORE: Scotland's railways set for £600m spending boost over five years

Their £161m spend on upkeep of the rail network included ploughing £36m into an enhanced maintenance regime which was meant to improve the prediction and prevention of failures, and the ability to respond more quickly to incidents on the network.

HeraldScotland:

A new regulator's analysis of the performance of NRS, the nationalised body that manages the infrastructure shows that in 2018-19, 58% of the delay minutes affecting ScotRail were blamed on NRS's handling of the network. Only one in three were the fault of ScotRail.

Of the issues laid at Network Rail Scotland's door, 22% was down to network management, one in five was down to infrastructure failures and nine per cent was down to severe weather.

But while the delay times were getting greater, the number of failures was getting smaller.

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There were 2304 service affecting issues for NRS to deal with in 2018-19, better than their target of 2,387.

And there was a warning that senior managers in charge of Scotland’s rail network facing financial sancitons if passengers continue to suffer severe disruption.

The ORR has introduced a new way to penalise NRS for licence failures - by hitting executives in the pocket through their bonus schemes.

Stephanie Tobyn, ORR director in Scotland, said: "There is an increase in time taken to recover from infrastructure incidents – something we have especially highlighted. This is a worrying trend as passengers are not seeing the benefit of Network Rail’s improving asset reliability.

HeraldScotland:

"We are monitoring this issue closely in line with our new holding to account policy which focuses on routine monitoring and assessment, inter-route comparison and early resolution of concerns.

"Should Network Rail be unable to resolve these issues, our new enforcement policy includes an option to impose financial sanctions at route level against the management team responsible.”

The regulator's analysis revealed that NRS intended to recruit and additional 143 full-time staff in 2018-19 in preparation for a planned increase in maintenance activities this year.

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By the end of it had taken on 98, a 31% shortfall on its planned recruitment.

The regulator said it was encouraged by NRS's increasing use of monitoring equipment designed to provide early warning of potential infrastructure failures which it hoped would help "drive improvements" in the resilience of the network in Scotland.

The ORR said that passengers in Scotland had "suffered a decline in train service performance" between October 14, 2018 and March 31, 2018 "They rely on both Network Rail and train operators working together to deliver punctual and reliable train services," the regulator said.

HeraldScotland:

"When incidents do occur, Network Rail Scotland must ensure that it can respond quickly to identify the cause and how it can be remedied," the ORR said. "Even when presented with challenging weather conditions, Network Rail must ensure it is doing everything reasonably practicable to ensure it is managing its infrastructure."

READ MORE: Regulator probes Network Rail as taxpayers count cost for Scots train service failures

But NRS was given credit for "good progress" in delivering enhancements to Scotland's railway infrastructure, including the electrification of the Shotts Line and the Stirling, Dunblane and Alloa route and the Glasgow Queen Street redevelopment.

Liam Sumpter, chief operating officer for Network Rail Scotland, said: “The number of infrastructure faults in Scotland is dropping, but with more trains than ever before using our network it can take time to restore services to normal following an incident. We are working hard with our partners across Scotland’s Railway to reduce delays, improve service recovery and drive up punctuality for our customers."

The ORR said in November that problems in implementing the new timetable in May, as well as extreme weather, had contributed to the worst performance since 2014 and possibly breached Network Rail’s licence conditions.