MPs have given a damning verdict of Chris Grayling’s tenure as transport secretary, saying he should have been more proactive in preventing this year’s train timetable chaos.
In a scathing report about timetable changes in May, the Transport Select Committee said the “chaotic rollout” of changes to services in May should be the catalyst for “genuine change” for people who rely on the railways.
The committee said passengers most affected by the delays and cancellations should receive a discount on 2019 tickets.
The MPs said the minister could not absolve himself of all responsibility for the chaos, although it acknowledged Grayling was not fully informed of the serious problems caused by the changes.
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 added: “It is extraordinary, and totally unacceptable, that no-one took charge of the situation and acted to avert the May timetabling crisis.
“Instead of experiencing the benefits of much-needed investment in our railways, around one in five passengers experienced intensely inconvenient and costly disruption to their daily lives.
“There was extraordinary complacency about protecting the interests of passengers, who were very badly let down”.
National rail timetabling needed “genuinely independent” oversight, located outside Network Rail, to avoid being affected by commercial and political pressure, said the committee.
All passengers affected by the May timetabling disruption were badly let down by the system, but people with sensory, mobility and other impairments were disproportionately affected, said the report.
Alex Hayman of consumer group Which? said: “The report provides yet more evidence that no-one took responsibility for fixing the timetable mess and that blame for the appalling delays, cancellations and lack of information endured by passengers goes right to the top.”
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.
Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) failed to run 12% of its planned service in the weeks following May 20, Arriva Rail North did not run around 11% of its trains, and there was a knock-on impact on TransPennine Express, said the report.
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.
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We have already worked with the industry to deliver special compensation schemes on Northern, TransPennine Express and GTR, which provides the equivalent of up to 8% of the cost of an annual season ticket for those most severely impacted.
“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.”