Passengers are routinely being failed by a chaotic rail industry, a damning official report concludes today.
Bosses, ministers and regulators are all blamed for the thousands of cancellations and delays that followed the release of a new timetable in May.
The rail watchdog’s report said the debacle highlighted systemic weaknesses, poor leadership and a lack of accountability.
‘It was unclear who was responsible for what,’ it said. ‘Nobody took charge. The present industry arrangements do not support clarity of decision making.’
A rail watchdog report that looked into the change of train timetables in May has slammed bosses, ministers and regulators saying ‘it was unclear who was responsible for what’ (stock picture)
The interim report into the timetable fiasco will heap pressure on Chris Grayling, who today launches yet another review into the railways, admitting they are ‘no longer fit for today’s challenges’.
The Transport Secretary has been criticised repeatedly for refusing to accept any blame for the chaos. Instead he has pointed the finger at train operators and Network Rail, which oversees infrastructure.
In July he confessed to MPs that he was ‘not a specialist in rail matters’. The report was commissioned by Mr Grayling from Stephen Glaister, chairman of the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).
Billed as the biggest ever, the timetable shake-up involved changing almost half of services to improve reliability.
But passengers endured weeks of disruption and thousands of delays and cancellations. The report reveals the hardest hit were commuters across northern England. More than 300 services on the northern network were cancelled every weekday.
In the South, 470 scheduled trains were cancelled every day by Thameslink and Great Northern services. Both are run by Govia. Operators were forced to introduce emergency timetables and services are slowly returning to normal. In the Lake District, all trains were cancelled after the line was temporarily shut down.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling (pictured) has been criticised for refusing to accept any blame for the chaos and in July said he was ‘not a specialist in rail matters’
According to the report, passengers endured ‘inconvenience, financial and emotional cost over a period of several weeks’.
Professor Glaister said: ‘The May 2018 timetable was meant to offer more services and reliability, but in reality it led to major disruption for passengers.
‘Central to the issues were that good intentions and over-optimism within the rail industry about its ability to recover missed deadlines left no time to uncover and fix problems.
‘When problems arose, timetable planners were stretched and train operators were ill-equipped to help passengers.’
The report said the Department for Transport and the ORR should bear some responsibility for failing to properly question assurances from the industry.
Peter Vicary-Smith, chief executive of the consumer group Which?, said: ‘The last 12 months have exposed the serious lack of leadership in the industry. But passengers are sick of finger pointing and simply want to be able to rely on their train service.’
Andy McDonald, Labour’s transport spokesman, said: ‘Rail passengers don’t need another review from the Tories to tell them that rail is broken.
‘Another review is meaningless in a year of rocketing fares, failing franchises and timetabling chaos. Another review lets Chris Grayling off the hook. The railways need a Labour government which will deliver public ownership.’
Anthony Smith, of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said passengers would cringe when they read the report.
The Department for Transport said that passenger journeys have almost doubled from 735million in 1994/5 to 1.73billion in 2016/17 (stock picture)
Passengers endured weeks of disruption and thousands of delays and cancellations. The report reveals the hardest hit were commuters across northern England
The Department for Transport insisted privatisation had ‘reversed the decline the railways saw under British Rail’.
It added that passenger journeys have almost doubled from 735million in 1994/5 to 1.73billion in 2016/17. But it admitted that the industry had not kept pace with the growth as the disruption in May showed.
Mr Grayling has commissioned a rail review from Keith Williams, a former boss of British Airways and deputy chairman of John Lewis. He has been asked to carry out a ‘root and branch’ investigation into the industry, from fares to the relationship between operators and Network Rail.
Mr Grayling said the aim was to deliver ‘the railway we need for the 21st century’.
‘Privatisation has delivered huge benefits for passengers on Britain’s railways – doubling passenger journeys and bringing in billions of private investment,’ he added.
‘But it is clear that the structure we inherited is no longer fit to meet today’s challenges and cope with increasing customer demand.’
Andrew Haines, Network Rail’s chief executive, said: ‘I’d like to add my sincerest apologies to passengers for letting them down with May’s timetable troubles.’
Patrick Verwer, chief executive of Govia, also apologised, saying that he welcomed the preliminary investigation into the ‘industry-wide issues’.