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TOC bosses appear before MPs, blame chaos on infrastructure failures

Bosses from Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and Northern Rail cited failures in infrastructure being completed in time and last-minute changes to timetables as reasons for a chaotic bedding in of new timetables that led to delays and cancellations last month.

Speaking to the transport select committee yesterday, David Brown and Rob Warnes of Northern Rail and Nick Brown and recently-resigned Charles Horton from GTR claimed that changes to timetable details were “not clearly understood” of the impact it would have on the implementation of the new timetable on 20 May.

“There is no single cause of what has happened here,” said Horton. “This has been a systemic failing of the industry's timetabling system which has had devastating consequences on our customers and we are very, very sorry for that.”

Last week statistics from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) announced that passenger journeys in 2017-18 fell for the first time in eight years.

GTR, who have been one of the most highly-publicised providers forced to delay and cancel trains during the tumultuous implementation of the new timetable, suffered a second successive year where passenger numbers fell. Chief executive Charles Horton resigned citing “huge frustration” from passengers last week.

Speaking to the transport select committee, Horton claimed that heavy delays to the finalisation of the timetables — nine weeks later than it was originally planned to be finalised — was caused by “extremely protracted and a complicated number of changes that happened during the timetable process.”

Horton continued to say that changes late changes the timetables had a knock-on effect across the five other providers, whose timetable had to liaise with GTR, citing issues such as the number of drivers, and the skill and knowledge of those drivers on new routes only had knowledge of new timetables by April, which ultimately left to cancellations and delays that are still ongoing.

“I’m terribly sad and terribly sorry that it’s ended the way it has, and our job now is to take the situation we’re in at the moment and get it back on track as soon as we possibly can do,” Horton added.

'The upgrade for people clearly wasn't delivered'

Northern boss David Brown said infrastructure failures, such as the failure to electrify the lines between Blackpool, Preston, and Manchester meant that the new timetables could not be implemented smoothly last month.

Brown went on to say that, due to the late decision that the electrification of the line would not be completed in time, the operator only had 16 weeks to plan for the new timetable, as opposed to the full 40 weeks preferred to ensure a complete and full implementation of the schedules.

“The timetable change that was supposed to be a significant upgrade for people in the north of England clearly wasn’t delivered,” said Brown.

The chief executive of Northern Rail went on to say that the provider requested for the timetable to be “rolled forward” to later in the year, after being notified that certain infrastructures like the electrification of lines in the north west would not be completed in time, but added that the majority of operators wanted to keep the implementation date in May.

“A significant number of other players didn’t want that to happen and that option was not the preferred option,” Brown told the committee.

“We’ve apologised to our customers many times before and we would like to do so again today. We’re truly sorry the timetable and service provided in the first two weeks of the timetable clearly affected people travelling to and from work but also major life events as well.”

Brown noted that it was only on 18 May that the industry realised they would see “the full ramifications” of the struggled timetable implementation.

Earlier this month transport secretary Chris Grayling commissioned an ORR-led inquiry into the chaotic timetable embedding across the UK. ORR Chair Stephen Glaister will lead the inquiry.

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