Posted 5th June 2018 | 7 Comments

Grayling announces disruption inquiry

TRANSPORT secretary Chris Grayling has announced a full scale inquiry into the causes of poor performance on Govia Thameslink and Northern since the timetable changes on 20 May.

He has spoken of his ‘incredible frustration’ and also warned that he could take action for breaches of franchise contracts, but he has highlighted Network Rail infrastructure delays as one of the main causes of the problems.

The new timetables, which should have ushered in more frequent trains serving more destinations, have proved to be unworkable. As a result, both operators shaved hundreds of services from their timetables yesterday for the time being in a bid to make their schedules more reliable.

So far, there has been some improvement, but many trains are still not turning up or arriving more than 30 minutes late.

Figures from the Rail Delivery Group show that the percentage of trains in this category has fallen from 11 per cent to 7 per cent on Northern, and from 13 per cent to 8 per cent on Govia Thameslink routes, which include Southern, Great Northern and Gatwick Express.

Mr Grayling told the House of Commons that “early analysis shows that the key issue was that Network Rail did not deliver infrastructure upgrades in time – in particular the Bolton electrification scheme – with damaging consequences. This forced plans to be changed at a very late stage – requiring a complete overhaul of logistics and crew planning.”

Meanwhile, on GTR Thameslink and Great Northern, “the industry timetable developed by Network Rail was very late to be finalised. This meant that train operators didn’t have enough time to plan crew schedules or complete crew training, affecting a whole range of other complex issues”.

He continued: “But it is also clear to me that both Northern and GTR were not sufficiently prepared to manage a timetable change of this scale either. GTR did not have enough drivers with the route knowledge required to operate the new timetable. And neither Northern nor GTR had a clear fall-back plan.”

Northern has agreed an action plan with the Rail North Partnership, focused on improving driver rostering to get more trains running as quickly as possible, rapidly increasing driver training on new routes, additional contingency drivers and managers on duty at key locations in Manchester.

On GTR, Mr Grayling said, “there are more services running on a day-to-day basis today than before the timetable change, and Southern and Gatwick Express services are performing well on some routes but not all. However, GTR are not currently able to deliver all planned services on Thameslink and Great Northern routes.”

Mr Grayling says he understands passengers’ anger, and has increased levels of compensation.

He has also fired a warning shot across the bows of the operators, saying “if it is found that GTR are materially in breach of their contractual obligations, I will take the appropriate enforcement action against them. This includes using the full force of the franchise agreement and my powers under the Railways Act, and I will include how such a failure impacts on their eligibility to hold a franchise bidding passport.

“In the case of Northern, my department will assess the operator’s planning, risk assessment and resilience in preparing for the May timetable change. Bearing in mind Network Rail’s failure to deliver infrastructure on time, we will absolutely hold the operator to the terms of their contractual obligations. I will not be afraid to take action where it is necessary to do so.”

Rail Delivery Group CEO Paul Plummer has agreed with Mr Grayling, saying: “We fully support the Government’s inquiry which must take an open and comprehensive look at every aspect of the decision-making process and the organisations involved in the timetable change. The industry will play its part to ensure lessons are learned but right now Network Rail, Northern and GTR are working together, with support from the rest of the industry, to get services back to an acceptable level.”

Transport Focus chief executive Anthony Smith added: “Unprecedented delays, confusion and cancellations have made life miserable in recent weeks for some Northern, Thameslink and Great Northern passengers. The promise of special compensation above and beyond the usual is welcome. But passengers’ first priority is to get services running so that they can plan their lives with some certainty.”

RMT general secretary Mick Cash has called for Mr Grayling to meet the front line staff affected. Mr Cash said: “The total chaos unleashed by Chris Grayling on our railways has left staff at the sharp end abandoned to their fate by his private train operators.  I am ‎challenging the transport secretary to come and meet some of the men and women bearing the brunt of the backlash against the timetable changes his department signed off.

“RMT members across the north and the south are being hung out to dry as human shields for a failed Tory privatisation dogma. That is a disgrace and Chris Grayling should have the guts to get out of his bunker and come and talk to them.”

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Greg Tingey, London

    It all comes back to the DfT & therefore Chris Failing, not NR .
    I wonder if anyone will notice this?

  • Thomas Allen, Eastbourne

    Do any of the critics ever make mistakes in their day to day work?

    Perhaps the RMT should bid to run a railway and show how it should be done.

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    Given that GTR is operated as a Management Contract buy Govia on behalf of the DFT with the DFT taking fare revenues ( unlike Franchises) in similar way as London Overground works for Mayor and TFL then ihe buck stops at Chris Grayling door so he Best have a good argument with himself and get the PM to sack her Transport Minister..

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    It seems we're now witnessing the inevitable unravelling of the fundamentally flawed model of indiscriminate franchising , on a "one size fits all" basis. Passenger operations fall into around three diverse categories - Intercity/ longer distance, Commuter/ suburban and Rural, each with its own needs and characteristics. A different framework for each, optimised for each category would seem desirable.

    Transport Secretaries come and go, but none of the recent ones can be held responsible for a badly thought out basic structure. At least, the Railfreight industry seems to be in good health, despite a worldwide moving away from consumption of coal.

  • Jez Milton, Manchester

    As with most failures of the modern railway system in this country, the blame for this timetabling fiasco lies with the clowns at Network Rail. If there was any justice, it would have been Mark "Digital Railway will solve everything" Carne who took the roasting from MPs yesterday.

    I would still like to see him dismissed from NR with his pension rights slashed/removed.

  • Tony Pearce, READING

    Most of the criticism of current Railway Operations by the Press is ill-founded and comes with a Political Slant. However these Timetable Changes really are a Fiasco. I just can't believe that they could go-ahead without detailed planning and all interested parties agreeing they had enough drivers and trains in the right place. Perhaps everything in Life has just become too complicated, that changes can't be done properly in a reasonable amount of time. When I was working in the design of Computer Systems back in 1990s, we all were taught to remember 'KISS', - 'Keep It Simple Stupid'. Clever designs were always difficult to understand and maintain by future employees.

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham

    I don't think anyone emerges with any credibility from this, including the critics. It was pretty obvious that there was a strong chance Bolton electrification would overrun, and - please correct me if I'm wrong - no-one called for the rail industry to be prepared for this situation.

    If I'm wrong, and someone is on the record talking about this prior to 2018, I'll take that person seriously. Everything else is just noise, evasive noise, and politically opportunistic noise.