Rail industry failed passengers over new timetable, Transport Secretary says

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The rail industry has “failed the passengers it serves” following the implementation of a new timetable, the Transport Secretary said.

There have been “wholly unsatisfactory levels of disruption” on Northern and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) services since departure times were rescheduled on May 20, according to Chris Grayling.

In two letters to MPs, Mr Grayling described how he is “frustrated” that what should have been a “good news story” about the introduction of new services and expanded capacity has had “such a poor start”.

Former Tory minister Grant Shapps said the Great Northern Railway service through his Welwyn Hatfield constituency in Hertfordshire was “bloody unacceptable”.

He told Channel 4 News he had written to Mr Grayling, asking him to strip the operator of its franchise immediately because “they are not fit to run a railway”.

He said: “What they have done with this new timetable is stripped away the services so they now take much longer to travel from Welwyn Garden City into London.

“They have taken away the daytime services, so they have gone from three to two an hour, and then they can’t even run that timetable with this reduced, poorer service, on time or indeed at all.

“They absolutely don’t deserve to be running this railway line and I’m calling for the Transport Secretary to remove their franchise immediately instead of waiting.”

Commuters are suffering their second week of travel chaos with the new timetable.

On Tuesday some 14% of Northern services were cancelled, with a further 25% at least five minutes late.

GTR saw 10% of trains cancelled and 14% delayed.

The rail timetable is updated twice a year, but the latest update has seven times more changes than normal due to investment and a bid to make existing services more reliable.

Chris Grayling
Mr Grayling wrote to MPs about being ‘frustrated’ that what should have been a ‘good news story’ about the introduction of new services has had ‘such a poor start’ (Danny Lawson/PA)

The new timetable was finalised “much too late to permit adequate logistical planning” due to delayed Network Rail infrastructure works, Mr Grayling stated.

In relation to Northern routes, the minister explained that the failure to deliver electrification to Bolton and Preston in time for the new timetable had delayed the introduction of new electric trains.

This meant there was a shortage of trains to cover the planned increase in services.

He added that the way Network Rail creates timetables is “simply unacceptable”.

Mr Grayling disclosed that he has ordered Network Rail, Northern and GTR to use “whatever resources they need” to resolve the situation.

Both Network Rail and GTR apologised for the problems caused.

Mark Carne, Network Rail’s chief executive,  said: “There is no doubt that the May timetable was finalised significantly later than normal for reasons that were both within and without our control.

“The consequences of that have been particularly hard for both Northern and GTR to absorb.

“But we are all firmly focussed on fixing this issue as quickly as possible to give passengers the reliable service they need and deserve.”

GTR chief executive Charles Horton added: “We always said that delivering the biggest timetable change in generations would be challenging – but we are sorry that we have not been able to deliver the service that passengers expect.

“Delayed approval of the timetable led to an unexpected need to substantially adjust our plans and resources.

“We fully understand that passengers want more certainty and are working very hard to bring greater consistency to the timetable as soon as possible.”

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