The original case was brought by Achilles Information, a provider of assurance services, which along with other rail sector suppliers and contractors was informed by NR in 2018 that the only supplier assurance scheme it would recognise was the Railway Industry Supplier Qualification Scheme (RISQS).

The RISQS-only rule and the fact that NR is a “must-have” partner for any business working in the rail sector, effectively precluded Achilles from making a credible offer of supplier assurance services to businesses in the rail sector.

In a statement, Fieldfisher, which brought the initial case on behalf of Achilles and offered defence during the appeal, said the Court of Appeal’s decision to dismiss in forceful terms all six of NR’s grounds of appeal is significant for all rail industry suppliers in Britain because NR’s rules on supplier qualification schemes are void and unenforceable. It says this should now encourage competition for assurance services.

“In my view this litigation could and should have been avoided, had Network Rail engaged on a reasonable basis with Achilles,” says Mr John Cassels, head of Fieldfisher’s competition and regulatory team. “Achilles ended up with no choice but to bring a case against a partner it worked with on a regular basis to ensure it could continue to offer its services to the British rail industry, as it had done previously.”

“Achilles has 30 years’ experience in offering supplier assurance across complex, regulated and safety critical industries,” says Mr Gavin Partridge, Achilles general counsel. “We believe that giving customers the potential to choose from different supplier assurance schemes can bring benefits similar to those we see in other sectors. The dynamics of a competitive market will encourage higher standards, innovation within the supply chain, and ultimately, customer choice.”

NR’s case was supported with evidence from independent regulator, Office of Rail and Road (ORR) and Her Majesty’s Railway Inspectorate. NR said it was “disappointed” by the ruling but will continue to engage with Achilles on their platform to maintain the high safety standards it expects of the supply chain.

“Network Rail will continue to require suppliers that we contract directly with for the supply of safety critical goods, works and services to be members of the RISQS scheme,” a spokesman said.