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Glaister report allocates widespread blame for timetable failures

The Office of Rail and Road’s (ORR) interim inquiry report into the causes of the May 2018 timetable disruption says all of the organisations involved made mistakes which contributed to widespread cancellations. The report was published on September 20.

The inquiry chaired by Stephen Glaister, says Network Rail (NR), Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), Northern, the Department for Transport (DfT) were all culpable in part. On disruption in Northern England, the report says delays to the North West Electrification Programme (NWEP) were worsened by Network Rail “which wrongly believed it could make up the time.”

On Thameslink, Glaister’s report says that the DfT’s decision to phase the introduction of the Thameslink timetable stretched resources at NR’s timetabling department, and the report adds that the industry as a whole “failed to foresee that these combined factors created a serious risk that the timetable could fail.” It also says that during the planning stages the rail industry placed engineering and planning concerns ahead of serving passengers, and that poor information train operators provided compounded problems faced by passengers.

Other key findings are that NR’s System Operator function was in the best position to understand and manage the risks of the timetable change “but did not take sufficient action, especially in the critical period of autumn 2017”; that neither Northern nor GTR were properly aware of or prepared for the problems in delivering the timetable and did not do enough to provide accurate information to passengers during disruption; and that while the DfT and ORR are responsible for overseeing aspects of the industry, “neither sufficiently questioned assurances they received from the industry about the risk of disruption.”

ORR and Inquiry Chairman Stephen Glaister said: “The May 2018 timetable was meant to offer more services and reliability, but in reality, it led to major disruption for passengers. Today’s report uncovers the issues that Network Rail, GTR, Northern, ORR and the DfT together need to address to stop this disruption happening again.

“Central to the issues were that good intentions and over-optimism within the rail industry about its ability to recover missed deadlines left no time to uncover and fix problems. When problems arose, timetable planners were stretched and train operators were ill-equipped to help passengers. This meant that staff worked in very difficult circumstances to do as good a job as possible and I thank them for their efforts.”

The final stage of the inquiry will analyse what the rail industry, DfT and OPRR must do to ensure a similar breakdown of services cannot happen. Recommendations will be published in the final report in December.

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