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MPs: Urgent reform needed to restore faith in railways after timetable chaos

PUBLISHED: 08:55 04 December 2018 | UPDATED: 08:55 04 December 2018

Two Great Northern line trains on the platform at Downham Market Railway Station. Picture: Ian Burt

Two Great Northern line trains on the platform at Downham Market Railway Station. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2018

MPs have slammed the “chaotic rollout” of railway timetable changes, including on the King’s Lynn to London line earlier this year.

A Great Northern line train heading out of Downham Market Railway Station towards King's Lynn. Picture: Ian BurtA Great Northern line train heading out of Downham Market Railway Station towards King's Lynn. Picture: Ian Burt

In a scathing report, the Transport Select Committee said the chaos to services in May should be the catalyst for “genuine change” for people who rely on the railways.

The new timetable by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which runs Great Northern, led to severe disruption.

The MPs added that 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.

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.

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

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.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “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.”

•A timeline of this summer’s disruption:

May 20: Govia Thameslink Railway introduces timetable changes which will add an extra 400 trains to the network. It pledges “passengers will see huge benefits”.

May 24: GTR announces an interim timetable, saying: “While nationwide, more than eight out of 10 services have arrived as planned since the new timetable was introduced, customers in some parts of the country have experienced unacceptable levels of disruption.”

June 3: Network Rail, Northern and GTR say they are “urgently working on comprehensive plans to reduce disruption”.

June 15: GTR chief executive Charles Horton resigns. He says: “I recognise that passengers have been hugely frustrated at the significant disruption caused by the introduction of new timetables.”

July 6: GTR publishes a further amended timetable.

August 28: GTR extends compensation scheme to all passengers.

•The EDP is currently running a survey into what passengers in East Anglia think of our railways. You can let us know above.

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