5th June 2018

Statement by the Secretary of State for Transport on ‘Rail Timetabling’ and Sir Nicholas’s Question to him on the train failures in Mid Sussex.

Sir Nicholas and his Parliamentary Colleagues will be meeting with the Management of Network Rail and GTR at the House of Commons tomorrow.

Statement by the Secretary of State for Transport on

Rail Timetabling


Monday 4th June 2018

House of Commons

The Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Grayling)

I am pleased to take the earliest opportunity to update the House on the recent difficulties around the timetable changes, in particular on some GTR and Northern routes.

I want to be absolutely clear: passengers on these franchises are facing totally unsatisfactory levels of service. It is my and my Department’s No. 1 priority to make sure that the industry restores reliability for passengers to an acceptable level as soon as possible. I assure the passengers affected that I share their frustration about what has happened, and that I am sorry that this has taken place.

The timetable change was intended to deliver the benefits to passengers of major investments in the rail network, meaning new trains, including all trains on the Northern and TransPennine Express networks, being either new or refurbished; the Great North Rail Project infrastructure upgrades worth well over £1 billion, such as those at the Ordsall Chord and Liverpool Lime Street; and in the south-east, through the Thameslink programme, new trains and improved stations, including London Bridge and Blackfriars.

The huge growth in passenger numbers in recent years demanded expanded routes, services and extra seats, but this timetable change has resulted instead in unacceptable disruption for the passengers who rely on these services. The most important thing right now is to get things back to a position of stability for those passengers, but it is also vital to understand what has happened and why we are in the situation we are in today. The circumstances of the failures are different on the Northern and GTR networks.

The investigations that are being carried out right now are providing more information about what has gone wrong, but it is worth being clear that the industry remained of the view until the last moment that it would be able to deliver the changes. That is the bit that everyone will find hard to understand and it is why there has to be a proper investigation into what has taken place.

On Northern, which is co-managed through the Rail North Partnership by Transport for the North and my Department, 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. The early analysis also shows that on GTR’s Thameslink and Great Northern routes, the industry timetable developed by Network Rail was very late to be finalised. That meant that train operators did not have enough time to plan crew schedules or complete crew training, affecting a range of other complex issues that impact on the service on what is already a highly congested network.

It is also clear to me that both Northern and GTR were not sufficiently prepared to manage a timetable change of this scale. GTR did not have enough drivers with the route knowledge required to operate the new timetable. Neither Northern nor GTR had a clear fall-back plan.​

In GTR’s case, the process of introducing the new timetable has been overseen for the past two years by an industry readiness board, comprising some of the most senior people in the industry, which told me it had been given no information to suggest the new timetable should not be implemented as planned, albeit with some likely early issues as it bedded down. This body was set up specifically to ensure that all parts of the rail network—Network Rail, GTR, other train operators—were ready to implement these major timetable changes. It should have been clear to it that some key parties were not ready. It did not raise this risk.

The Department received advice from the Thameslink readiness board that, while there were challenges delivering the May 2018 timetable—namely, the logistics of moving fleet and staff—a three-week transition period would allow for minimal disruption. My officials were assured that the other mitigations in place were sufficient and reasonable. Indeed, as few as three weeks before the timetable was to be implemented, GTR itself assured me personally that it was ready to implement the changes. Clearly this was wrong, and that is totally unacceptable.

The rail industry has collectively failed to deliver for the passengers it serves. It is right that the industry has apologised for the situation we are currently in and that we learn the lessons for the future, but right now the focus should be on restoring the reliability of its service to passengers. This morning, I met again with chief executives of Network Rail, GTR and Northern—the latest in a series of meetings that I and my Department have been holding with these organisations—and the Rail Minister has today been to Network Rail’s control centre at its Milton Keynes headquarters. We have made it clear to them all that the current services are still not good enough. I have also demanded that Network Rail and the train operator work more collaboratively across the industry to resolve the situation, where necessary by using resources from other train operators to support the recovery effort. Officials in my Department are working around the clock to oversee this process. We have strengthened resources in both the Department and Rail North Partnership, which oversees the Northern franchise, to hold the industry to account for improving services.

I would like to be able to tell the House that there is an easy solution or that the Department could simply step in and make the problems passengers are facing go away—if there were a way of doing so, I would do it without a moment’s hesitation—but ultimately the solution can only be delivered by the rail industry. 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. It is for such reasons that I am committed to unifying the operations of track and trains, where appropriate, to ensure that we do not encounter such problems in the future.

Northern Rail has agreed an action plan with Rail North Partnership that is focused on improving driver rostering so as to get more trains running as quickly as possible; rapidly increasing driver training on new routes; providing for additional contingency drivers and management presence at key locations in Manchester; and putting extra peak services into the timetable along ​the Bolton corridor. Work on this action plan has been under way for some time. They have also published temporary timetables that will be more deliverable and will give passengers much more confidence in the reliability of their service. This will mean removing certain services from the new expanded timetable while still ensuring an improvement in the total number of services run by Northern compared to before the timetable change. Alternative arrangements will be made for passengers negatively impacted by the changes. I believe that this temporary measure is necessary to stabilise the service and enable improvements to be introduced gradually.

On GTR, there are more services running on a day-to-day basis today than before the timetable change, while Southern and Gatwick Express services are performing well on some routes but not all. GTR is not currently able, however, to deliver all planned services on Thameslink and Great Northern routes. In order to give passengers more confidence, it is removing services in advance from its timetable rather than on the day and reducing weekend services to pre-May levels. These measures will be in place until a full re-planning of driver resourcing has been completed.

I would like to make it clear that, while I expect to see stable timetables restored on both networks in the coming days, I expect the full May timetable and all the extra trains to be introduced in stages over the coming months to ensure it can be delivered properly this time. Once the full service is operating on GTR, 24 Thameslink trains will run through central London every hour, and by next year, 80 more stations will have direct services to central London stations such as Farringdon, City Thameslink and Blackfriars. There will also be 115 new trains and more than 1,000 new carriages providing faster, more frequent and more reliable journeys for passengers.

On Northern, the great north rail project, an investment of well over £1 billion in the region’s rail network, will enable by 2020 faster and more comfortable journeys as well as new direct services across the north and beyond. By 2020, the train operators, Northern and TransPennine Express, will deliver room for 40,000 extra passengers, and more than 2,000 extra services a week.

That, however, is the future. What matters now is restoring a stable service for passengers today. I completely understand their anger about the level of disruption that the timetable change has caused in recent weeks. 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. The industry will set out more details of the eligibility requirements, and of how season ticket holders can claim, but I think it is very important for passengers—particularly in the north, where disruption has been protracted—to be given entitlements similar to those conferred by last year’s Southern passenger compensation scheme. Commuters in the north are important, as important as commuters in the south, and they should receive comparable support.

It is clear to me that, aside from Network Rail’s late finalisation of the timetable, GTR and Northern were not sufficiently prepared to manage a timetable change ​of this scale, so today I am also announcing that work has begun to set up an inquiry into the May timetable implementation. It will be carried out by the independent Office of Rail and Road, and chaired by Professor Stephen Glaister. It is necessary to have a full inquiry, and Professor Glaister will lead one. 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.

In parallel to the inquiry, my Department will assess whether GTR and Northern met their contractual obligations in the planning and delivery of the timetable change. It will consider whether the issues could have been reasonably foreseen and different action taken to prevent the high levels of disruption that passengers are experiencing.

In GTR’s case, the assessment will cover whether the operator had sufficient resources and skills to deliver the new timetable and whether drivers could have been trained in a faster and more effective way, and will examine the contingency and risk management arrangements currently in place. If it is found that GTR is materially in breach of its contractual obligations, I will take appropriate enforcement action against it. That will include using the full force of the franchise agreement and my powers under the Railways Act 2005, and consideration of how such a failure affects GTR’s 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 hold the operator to the terms of its contractual obligations.

I will not be afraid to take enforcement action when it is necessary, but it is right to go through the process of the inquiry and to understand where fault truly lies. I will not hold back from taking appropriate action if the review finds that there has been negligent behaviour.

Given the importance that Members throughout the House ascribe to these issues, I have arranged for both Northern and GTR to come to the House this week to discuss with colleagues any specific issues that they wish to raise with the operators. I am also meeting Members in all parts of the House today to discuss the issues with them. I am incredibly frustrated that what should have been an improvement in services for passengers has turned into significant disruption, and I am sorry about the levels of disruption that passengers are experiencing. I am also sorry for the staff members who have been caught at the sharp end of these changes.

There clearly have been major failures that have led to the situation that we are in today. I am clear about the fact that the industry must and will be held to account for this, but my immediate priority is to ensure that we improve train services to an acceptable level as quickly as possible, and that will remain my priority.

Volume 642
No 146
Columns 50-53



Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con)

I make a respectful suggestion to my right hon. Friend, which is that the rail industry readiness board should be taken quietly outside and disposed of. Is he aware that the rail service to East Grinstead, in which he has always taken an interest, has finally fallen over completely, that trains from Haywards Heath, Wivelsfield and Burgess Hill are shorter and more overcrowded, that people’s private lives are being destroyed and that this whole thing is an absolute disaster that must be put right?

The Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Grayling)

I completely agree with my right hon. Friend, and I have communicated that to the company concerned.


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