MPs slam Grayling over rail meltdown

4 December 2018, 06:56 | Updated: 4 December 2018, 08:05

Chris Grayling red face

The Transport Secretary should have been more proactive in preventing the train timetable chaos this year and swift reforms are needed to restore passengers' trust in the railways, according to MPs.

In a scathing report about timetable changes in May, the Transport Select Committee said the "chaotic rollout" of alterations to services across the country should be the catalyst for "genuine change" for people who rely on the railways.

The MPs said Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was not fully informed of the serious problems caused by the changes, but they added it was not reasonable for him to absolve himself of all responsibility.

Mr Grayling had the ultimate authority to judge trade-offs between competing commercial interest and he should have been more proactive, said the report.

The committee said passengers most affected by the delays and cancellations should receive a discount on 2019 tickets.

Last week's announcement that rail fares will increase by an average of 3.1% added "insult to passengers' injury", said Lilian Greenwood, who chairs the committee.

She said: "It is extraordinary, and totally unacceptable, that no-one took charge of the situation and acted to avert the May timetabling crisis.

"Instead of experiencing the benefits of much-needed investment in our railways, around one in five passengers experienced intensely inconvenient and costly disruption to their daily lives.

"There was extraordinary complacency about protecting the interests of passengers, who were very badly let down.

"The complex system by which we operate our rail services failed to cope with the scale of change planned for May.

"The Secretary of State has announced a year-long independent rail review. While the need for fundamental reform is beyond doubt, passengers cannot wait until 2020 for key lessons to be learned and reforms implemented."

National rail timetabling need "genuinely independent" oversight, located outside Network Rail, to avoid being affected by commercial and political pressure, said the committee.

All passengers affected by the May timetabling disruption were badly let down by the system, but people with sensory, mobility and other impairments were disproportionately affected, said the report, adding: "This is clearly unacceptable. As a matter of urgency industry and the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) must take steps to ensure such a situation does not arise again."

The report said the disruption led to a prolonged period of inconvenient, costly and potentially dangerous disruption for passengers across the north of England, London and the south.

There was a collective, system-wide failure across Network Rail, the train operators, Transport Department and the ORR, and "nobody took charge", said the MPs.

Mick Cash, leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: "This devastating report lays the blame clearly on the disastrous fragmentation of our railways and with Chris Grayling.

"He was asleep at the wheel of a broken, fragmented, over-complicated system that is solely of his party's creation. He has presided over a collective systemic failure and passengers deserve nothing less than his resignation."

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said: "It's an inescapable fact that the complexity of the British rail system is one of the primary reasons why it was so easy for senior figures across the railway to pass the buck ahead of the new timetable's introduction in May.

"Meaningful reform of the system is impossible under the current rail structure supported by the Conservatives.

"The committee is correct to say that Chris Grayling could have done more and should take greater responsibility for the chaos in May."

Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers' union Aslef, said: "The Transport Secretary, if he had any sense of embarrassment or responsibility, would do the decent thing and resign after this damning report. He won't, of course. Everything is always someone else's fault, as far as he's concerned.

"The truth is we don't want, or need, reform. We need a radical solution to the problem. We need to bring our railways back into public ownership - a promise Labour has made to the electorate - and run our railway as a public service, not for private profit."

Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Transport Focus, said: "This industry knows it must deliver a smooth set of changes when the next round of timetable changes takes effect this Sunday.

"They must show they've learned lessons after a torrid summer of timetable crisis, and are acting to improve performance.

"Looking to the future Transport Focus believes someone has to be placed clearly in charge of timetable changes."

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "We have already worked with the industry to deliver special compensation schemes on Northern, TransPennine Express and GTR, which provides the equivalent of up to 8% of the cost of an annual season ticket for those most severely impacted.

"The disruption following the May timetable change demonstrated that significant change is required in the rail industry. That is why we launched the Williams review to consider all parts of the industry in order to put passengers first, with reforms to begin from 2020."

Patrick Verwer, chief executive of Govia Thameslink Railway, said: "We are very sorry for the disruption the May timetable caused and have already processed compensation claims for 68,000 season ticket holders, with the deadline for claims extended to 31 January 2019.

"Since July, services on Thameslink and Great Northern have become more stable and reliable.

"Next week we will begin to introduce 200 mainly off-peak services to complete the phased roll-out of the May weekday timetable, bringing the total number of daily weekday services to 3,600."

Alex Hayman of consumer group Which? said: "The report provides yet more evidence that no-one took responsibility for fixing the timetable mess and that blame for the appalling delays, cancellations and lack of information endured by passengers goes right to the top."