Rail service improvements and disruptions

05.06.18

Grayling speech: inquiry launched, passengers to receive compensation

The transport secretary will launch an official inquiry into the ongoing debacle that is the disruptions caused by new timetable implementations around the country, and announced passengers affected by disruptions will receive compensation.

Making a statement to the Commons yesterday, Chris Grayling said he was “very, very sorry” rail passengers were heavily affected by late cancellations and disruptions to lines around the country, most notably on the Northern and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) lines.

The MP for Epsom and Ewell laid the blame at the feet of the rail providers and Network Rail, arguing there were major failures from operators who promised to deliver changes to lines in time but were unable to do so.

GTR’s disruptions were caused due to the timetable developed with Network Rail being “very late to be finalised,” and meant that the train operators did not have enough time to roster sufficient staff or complete crew training, which affected a whole range of other issues.

With Northern, timetables fluctuated because “Network Rail did not deliver infrastructure upgrades on time” and each provider lacked a considerable fallback plan — despite telling the government that they were ready to implement changes, Grayling noted.

“Ultimately, the solution can only be delivered by the rail industry,” Grayling said. “These problems can only be fixed by Network Rail and the train operators methodically working through the timetable and re-planning train paths and driver resourcing to deliver a more reliable service.”

Yesterday MPs wrote to the transport secretary complaining of constituents in London, Bedfordshire and Sussex were arriving late for work, missing medical appointments and time spent with family, amongst other things, due to constant delays and cancellations from GTR.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham claimed Grayling was “asleep at the wheel” in his handling of Northern Rail — of which over 2,200 services have been cancelled since the new timetable on 20 May — and argued the disruptions have left passengers out of pocket due to the poor service.

Compensation and inquiry launched

Passengers affected on Northern and GTR routes will receive compensation funded entirely by the industry, Grayling also announced.

GTR and Northern will set out more details of how to receive the compensation and will be similar to that of last year’s Southern crisis compensation scheme.

Grayling commented: “There must, of course, be a special compensation scheme for passengers on affected routes on both GTR and Northern. In the case of Northern, the scheme will be subject to agreement with the board of Transport for the North, although I doubt that the board will have a problem with it.

“The purpose of the scheme, which will be introduced and funded by the industry, will be to ensure that regular rail customers receive appropriate redress for the disruption that they have experienced.”

An inquiry will also be commenced looking into the responsibilities and the lessons learned from the ongoing crisis, with transport professor Stephen Glaister leading the proceedings and carried out by the independent Office of Rail and Road, which will be introduced in phases.

“The inquiry will consider why the system as a whole failed to produce and implement an effective timetable. Its findings will be shared as early as possible with me and with the rail industry, so that lessons can be learnt in advance of future major timetable changes.

“The final report will be published by the Office of Rail Regulation by the end of the year, but I want to see initial responses much sooner than that,” Grayling added.

GTR and Northern could be barred of its eligibility to hold a rail franchise license in the future, Grayling commented.

Public responses

Following Grayling’s comments, shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald called for Grayling to resign.

He said there is one person who is “ultimately responsible: the Secretary of State for Transport.”

“Yes, Network Rail has not delivered, but he seems to forget that, as a company limited by guarantee, Network Rail has one member: the Secretary of State for Transport — him,” he added.

“He is the man in charge — allegedly. The right hon. gentleman might want to blame Network Rail, but it is he who has failed in his responsibility to oversee it; the buck stops with him.”

McDonald added that the inquiry due at the end of the year will be too late to ensure a smooth transition into a new timetable in December, continuing: “The secretary of state says he is sorry for the disruption passengers are facing. That is not good enough; he should apologise to passengers for his failures that have put their jobs at risks and played havoc with their family life.”

Ex-defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon said the transport secretary “needed to get a grip” on the situation, adding that it was “becoming a scandal.”

"It really is time now that ministers got a grip on this and force Thameslink to get on and run a decent service," he said.

User transport watchdog Transport Focus’ chief Anthony Smith said delays, confusion and cancellations have “made life miserable” for Northern, Thameslink and Great Northern passengers.

He continued: “But passengers’ first priority is to get services running so that they can plan their lives with some certainty. 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."

Today 25 regional northern newspapers joined forces to pressure Theresa May to make northern rail a priority for the government. 

The Lancashire Post, The Yorkshire Post, and the Manchester Evening News are part of 25 press publications joining the 'Off the Rails' movement in boycotting the government in an effort to direct more attention on the Northern Rail services.

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Image credit: PA Wire

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