Inquiry into Lakes rail chaos says "no-one took charge"

Marco Green
September 22, 2018

From 20 May, passengers suffered delays and cancellations after the rail industry attempted to introduce the biggest timetable change in a generation.

Darren Shirley, head of the Campaign for Better Transport, said the railway is "not working for passengers" in its current form, adding that the review must lead to "much-needed" reform of fares, ticketing and the franchising system. Timetables have been rewritten a couple of times since then in repeated efforts to retrieve the situation.

ORR and Inquiry Chairman, Professor 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". The ORR says that needs to change. It also found that the DfT's decision to agree to phase the introduction of Thameslink stretched resources at Network Rail's timetabling department, while the industry as a whole failed to foresee that these combined factors created a serious risk that the revised timetable could fail.

The interim report from the regulator said both the DfT and the rail industry "placed engineering and planning concerns ahead of serving its passengers".

While Network Rail was in the best position to understand and manage risks it did not take sufficient action, especially in the critical period of autumn 2017.

What did Network Rail do wrong?

The rail review commissioned by the Government will be led by Keith Williams - deputy chairman of John Lewis and former chief executive of British Airways - who will be supported by an external panel.

It is not yet clear if the DfT will be ruling anything out, although renationalisation is unlikely to be high on the list.

There is also scepticism over the franchising system following the failure of Virgin Trains East Coast. This summer, in the north of England, and elsewhere, that promise was broken.

He said he had taken at "face value" assurances by industry-leaders that they were ready to make the changes.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling - who had previously insisted: "I don't run the railways" - told the BBC's Today programme that the problem was system-wide and that it was his job to "make sure it doesn't happen again".

"As a result of this disruption, we took immediate action to improve services and passenger information, and to establish industry-funded compensation schemes".

Chris Grayling promised a "root and branch" approach that would "leave no stone unturned".

There has been widespread industry reaction this morning. After what has been a woeful summer we will continue to hold those running the railways, and the government, to account. The government will publish a white paper on the review's recommendations, with the implementation of reforms planned to start from 2020.

"Passengers didn't get that because of a failure in the system".

Chris Grayling has admitted he failed to "ask the hard questions" of the rail industry in the run up to the timetabling chaos which caused misery for northern rail passengers earlier this year.

"Today's report from the rail regulator is merely the latest to highlight the dysfunctional buck passing which goes on across the rail industry".

"As Transport Secretary Grayling has presided over this fiasco, so what confidence can passengers have that he will take finally take responsibility and sort things out before the next set of timetable changes in December?"

"Thameslink and Great Northern services are now back on track with over 87 per cent of Thameslink and Great Northern services on time last week".

The RMT dubbed the ORR report as a "whitewash".

Mr Grayling said: "Privatisation has delivered huge benefits of passengers on Britain's railways - doubling passenger journeys and bringing in billions of private investment". It lets the private rail companies responsible for the timetable chaos right off the hook. The ORR are up to their necks operationally and this is effectively the industry investigating itself. It's a nerve this mob claiming the rail industry lacks leadership when they have been party to smashing it up into profiteering fragments'.

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group which represents train companies and Network Rail, said the rail industry was determined to learn from the issues to avoid a repeat. The railway in its current form is not working for passengers.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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