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Scathing letter rips into May timetable chaos, demands Grayling take responsibility

Members of the London Assembly have written to Chris Grayling calling on him to take responsibility for the failings of the industry in implementing new timetables – which have wreaked havoc across the network since their roll-out in May – to ensure this fiasco does not happen again.

In a scathing letter to the transport secretary today, the London Assembly Transport Committee said the level of service provided by GTR has been “totally unacceptable,” and set out a number of findings of the chaotic introduction of timetables on 20 May – which brought cancellations and disruption to rail lines around the UK.

It argued that the Industry Readiness Board (IRB) – made up of Network Rail, the ORR and TOCs, which was set up to manage the Thameslink implementation – “clearly failed in practice,” as well as highlighted failures such as no single controlling mind behind the timetable change who was there to deal with issues that arose – an issue IRB boss Chris Gibb discussed with MPs at a committee inquiry this week.

“Passenger confidence in the rail industry has been shaken by this episode,” the letter claimed. “The rail industry is complex and fragmented, and many parts of it have been at fault. But you, as secretary of state, need to take responsibility for the failings of the industry here, and take steps to make sure it does not happen again.”

Members of the London Assembly added that many of the problems were visible many months before May and these problems should have been made clear to the IRB so that timetables could be scaled back or delayed. Gibb, however, has argued that they were not expecting these issues when the IRB last met before the timetables were rolled out, but he did accept that the industry lacks the courage to say no to often excessive demands.

The letter referenced the issue that timetables should have been set 12-20 weeks before the change, but some were still being approved just days before 20 May. Assembly members said it was “patently obvious” that GTR and other operators would not have enough time to prepare train diagrams and work schedules, and then roster drivers.

Management of staff was also brought into question by the assembly. The letter, signed by Transport Committee chair Caroline Pidgeon MBE, said it was clear that GTR would not have enough trained drivers for the new routes in the May schedules. The rail industry’s reliance on rest-day working for training on new routes was also criticised: members heard that it could take six to nine months to learn a completely new route, making the new timetables even more laborious to implement.

In addition, rail technology caused problems for the introduction of the timetables; the new Siemens Class 700 trains were delivered late, partly due to technical issues but also because the DfT was unable to agree a financing deal for two whole years.

“All of these factors were known to the industry, yet, somehow, nobody was able to reach the conclusion that the May timetable changes just could not work,” Pigeon continued.

“We do not understand how so many warning signs were ignored by so many people. The composition of the IRB needs to be seriously looked at – perhaps some external voices on the board would have provided some useful challenge to the industry group.”

‘Industry whitewash’

Her letter also brought into question to decision to appoint Stephen Glaister, chair of the ORR, to lead the inquiry on the rail chaos, noting: “The ORR was an integral part of the IRB which failed to prevent this situation. It is important that the inquiry is seen to be independent, and we are concerned that the public will see it as little more than an industry whitewash.”

The assembly commended the industry for introducing a compensation scheme, but noted that they do not understand why it has taken two months to get to this point. It urged the DfT to establish a “much quicker process” to set up compensation schemes for any future episodes of disruption.

In a statement, Pidgeon concluded: “The chaos that unfolded after the introduction of the new rail timetable on 20 May is proof that not enough people in the rail industry were willing to speak up and admit that the changes were simply not going to work.

“Passengers expect and deserve better.”

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Image credit: Victoria Jones, PA Images


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