POLITICS
04/06/2018 14:23 BST | Updated 04/06/2018 14:50 BST

Chris Grayling Delays Meetings On Timetable Chaos Due To… Timetable Chaos

'You literally could not make this up.'

The Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, is on a collision course with MPs after meetings to discuss train chaos across England were moved at the last-minute. 

Furious MPs have been demanding Grayling intervene after more than 12,000 train journeys have been disrupted since the introduction of new timetables two weeks ago. 

On Monday, the minister left fellow parliamentarians flabbergasted when he announced he could not timetable meetings because of timetabling issues of his own. 

A spokesman for Grayling and fellow transport minister Jo Johnson emailed MPs to say: “We’ve had a very large number of colleagues asking for a meeting with Chris Grayling or Jo Johnson to discuss the timetable changes and subsequent disruption on the Northern and Govia Thameslink networks. 

“We’ve tried to accommodate people on a first-come first-served basis but, even with appointments running solidly between 6pm and 10pm for both ministers, we’ve been unable to accommodate a significant number of colleagues at this stage.” 

The extent of the rail delays and train cancellations facing the public has been unprecedented, after Govia Thameslink Railway and Northern trains launched new timetables.

Hundreds of trains have been cancelled, and Grayling has blamed Government-owned Network Rail for late-running engineering projects.

Downing Street has said that the Prime Minister has full confidence in Grayling but that the extent of rail misery has been “unacceptable”. 

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We have tremendous sympathy with everyone who has had their rail journey delayed or disrupted.

“What we have seen had been totally unacceptable.”

Dylan Martinez / Reuters
Downing Street has said the PM has full confidence in Transport Secretary Chris Grayling 

Northern launched an eight-week interim timetable on Monday, removing 165 trains - 6% of services.

Areas affected include Manchester, Liverpool, Blackpool and the Lakes Line between Oxenholme and Windermere.

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) - which consists of Southern, Thameslink, Great Northern and Gatwick Express - is also running a temporary timetable and

Some 230 daily services have been removed by GTR, which makes up 6% of scheduled trains.

The reduced timetables failed to stop Monday becoming the start of a third week of rail chaos with the number of trains either cancelled or more than 30 minutes late for Northern and GTR reaching 69 (7%) and 102 (8%) respectively by 12.30pm, according to the trains.im website.

Even before the new timetables, Northern services suffered frequent delays and cancellations.

New Network Rail punctuality data shows that between April 29 and May 26, more than one in three (35%) trains on the operator’s Lancashire and Cumbria routes were delayed by at least five minutes.

This is the most since Arriva Rail North took over the franchise in April 2016.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said frustrated train commuters in the North should get substantial compensation and fare reductions, claiming Northern is in the “last chance saloon”.

PA Archive/PA Images
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham

Northern insists it will still run more trains than it did before last month’s timetable change, and expects to get back to a full timetable service by the end of July.

The firm’s managing director David Brown has apologised for the “unacceptable service”, and said they are working hard to fix the problems.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said on Friday that disruption to GTR services is damaging the “international reputation” of the capital, and said the firm should be stripped of its franchise.

GTR said it is “very sorry for the significant disruption” and is “working with industry colleagues to introduce further changes that will progressively deliver improvement”.