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13.07.18

Creating a single independent role for timetable sign-offs would not be achievable, says Gibb

Appointing someone responsible for ultimately signing off timetable changes across the network – and for being vocal when planned reforms are too heroic and should be reconsidered or delayed – would not be achievable, Chris Gibb has argued.

Gibb, who leads the Thameslink 2018 Industry Readiness Board (IRB), admitted to MPs at a Transport Committee inquiry this week that there is no one person responsible for independently verifying timetable change processes as a matter of routine. The IRB keeps “very careful note” of the progress of the process, but lacks executive power to decide unilaterally that timetables should be delayed.

The railway veteran, however, explained that if he felt the project was not deliverable or that any particular part of the industry was getting in the way, he “would not have hesitated” to relay his concerns to transport secretary Chris Grayling.

He also claimed that while cross-industry collaboration may not have been enough to stop the May timetable chaos, “there was no lack of determination” to cooperate.

Committee member Huw Merriman branded it “absolutely staggering” that for a massive change management programme, where there is excessive reliance on one party doing something by a certain date, “there seemed to be comfort that that organisation had their own project management team, but there was nothing linking it.”

“It does not surprise me that we are where we are, because when we go back I do not see the sponsor, I do not see the project manager and I do not see the stakeholders having signed off in blood that they are ready at a certain point in time,” said Merriman.

But Gibb hit back, arguing that a single project manager responsible for every element of timetable changes across the whole of the UK would not be achievable.

“You are asking somebody to verify that a train between Kyle of Lochalsh and Inverness is correctly timetabled, will have a driver and a trainset, and that they will all be competent, and to do that across the whole of the UK every six months,” he continued.

“Each organisation has its own accountabilities. A train company has its own responsibilities, not just for the efficient operation of the railway but for the safe operation of the railway. I do not think we should take away that accountability and park it with somebody located somewhere, overseeing the whole of the system in that way.

“Network Rail has very clear accountability for preparing the timetable and developing the infrastructure. The train operator has responsibility for operating the trains, providing the drivers and guards. People in the industry are clear where accountability sits, but there is no single controlling mind.”

Gibb did, however, add that he expects the ORR will look at this issue and consider whether there needs to be a single responsible entity for this.

Elsewhere in the inquiry, the rail boss acknowledged that the rail industry currently lacks the courage to say no to the demands of all its stakeholders.

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