MSE News

Railway review launched after 'nobody took charge' during May's timetable fiasco

A major review of Britain's railways has been launched after an investigation into the May timetable disruption found "nobody took charge" of the situation.

The Government said the review will consider aspects including accountability, and value for money for passengers and taxpayers.

Its announcement comes after an investigation by the transport regulator – the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) – into the May timetable change concluded the Department for Transport, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), Network Rail, Northern and the ORR itself all made mistakes during the May timetable fiasco.

The timetable change was intended to deliver benefits to passengers, but instead saw hundreds of trains a day cancelled on Great Northern, Northern, Thameslink and TransPennine Express routes, as we revealed in our MSE News story earlier this week.

Commuters are being offered extra compensation for the timetable chaos, see our Train Delays guide for more.

Why did the timetable changes cause so much chaos?

The ORR has published a 183-page report, cataloguing failures by various organisations which led to the scale of the disruption experienced by passengers.

Some of the reasons include:

  • Delays with Network Rail's electrification work in the north west of England.
  • GTR and Northern were not "properly aware or prepared" for the problems with the new timetables and did not do enough to provide accurate information to passengers when disruption occurred.
  • The Department for Transport and ORR failed to properly examine the assurances they received from the industry about the risk of disruption.

The ORR report states: "For the May timetable changes there were well-intentioned but counterproductive late adjustments to 'de-risk' the situation.

"Network Rail's timetable planning department, the System Operator, was best placed to notice that a problem was developing and they did recognise this. But they did not take sufficient action to manage the risks or the consequences.

"The present industry arrangements do not support clarity of decision making: it was unclear who was responsible for what. Nobody took charge."

What will the review do?

Former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams is to lead the review of the rail industry, supported by a panel of experts.

Any reforms set out by the review are to be implemented from 2020.

Exactly what the review will focus on is unclear, but the Government says it will consider all parts of the sector, including accountability, the franchising system – where the opportunity to run certain railway routes are contracted out to private companies – and value for money.

What do the Government and train firms say?

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: "We've been clear that the railway needs reform to prioritise its passengers and we have set out plans for closer partnerships between operators of track and train, including on the LNER and South Eastern networks.

"But as part of our vision for the future of mobility, we need to go further and more quickly, to get the best from the public and private sectors and deliver the railway we need for the 21st century. It is vital that this review leaves no stone unturned and makes bold recommendations for the future."

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group which represents train firms, said: "While we continue to look at our own role in driving improvement, root and branch reform of the whole system can only be delivered with the help of Government.

"This review is a once in a generation opportunity for the wide-ranging and independent thinking our railway needs and we stand ready to play our part to make sure it delivers big, bold, meaningful reform in the national interest."