A Government inquiry has been launched to investigate what has caused the failure of the new timetables on Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and Northern.
Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling said in the House of Commons last night (June 4): “Work has started to set up an inquiry by the independent Office of Rail and Road (ORR), chaired by Stephen Glaister, into the May timetable implementation.
“It is necessary to have a full enquiry. The inquiry will consider why the system as a whole failed to produce and implement an effective timetable.”
He said findings will be shared at as early a stage as possible with himself and the industry so lessons can be learned in advance of future major timetable changes. The final report will be published by the ORR by the end of the year.
The government will also assess whether GTR and Northern met contractual obligations in the planning and delivery of this timetable change. He said: “My department will be assessing whether these issues could have been reasonably foreseen and different action taken to prevent the high levels of disruption passengers are experiencing.
“In GTR’s case the assessment will cover whether the operator had sufficient resources and skills to deliver the new timetable, if drivers could have been trained in a faster and more effective way and examine the contingency and risk management arrangements in place.
“If it is found that GTR are materially in breach of their contractual obligations, I will take the appropriate enforcement action against them. This includes using the full force of the franchise agreement and my powers under the Railways Act, and I will include how such a failure impacts on their eligibility to hold a franchise bidding passport.
“In the case of Northern, my department will assess the operator’s planning, risk assessment and resilience in preparing for the May timetable change. Bearing in mind Network Rail’s failure to deliver infrastructure on time, we will absolutely hold the operator to the terms of their contractual obligations. I will not be afraid to take action where it is necessary to do so. It is right to go through the review.
“I will not hold back from taking appropriate action if the review finds that there has been negligent behaviour.”
Anthony Smith, chief executive of independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: “Unprecedented delays, confusion and cancellations have made life miserable in recent weeks for some Northern, Thameslink and Great Northern passengers. The promise of special compensation above and beyond the usual is welcome. But passengers’ first priority is to get services running so that they can plan their lives with some certainty.
“An inquiry into what has happened and why is welcome – including an understanding of how, despite strong assurances, these welcome investments and potential improvements have gone so sour.
“The relative roles played by governments, Network Rail and train companies need to be analysed and understood so that timetable planning can be put back on a proper footing for the long term. This can’t be allowed to happen again at the next timetable change in December.”
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: “This is just the usual stream of hot air, broken promises and buck passing that we have come to expect from Chris Grayling and no one believes a single word of it.
"I challenge the Transport Secretary to come and join some of my members at the sharp end facing abuse and threats while the services he is responsible for collapse into chaos. They should not be left hanging out to dry as human shields for failed Tory privatisation dogma.
"The only solution to the current shambles is to sack these useless private operators and return Britain's rail services to public ownership. RMT will continue to fight for that objective and the delivery of a reliable, safe and accessible rail service for all.
"If there was a World Cup for total and abject failure they wouldn't even bother having a tournament. They would just give Chris Grayling the trophy and send everyone else home."
- For in-depth analysis of the problems, read RAIL 854, published on June 6, and available now on Android/iPad.
- For more on this story, read RAIL 855, published on June 20, and available on Android/iPad from June 16.