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MPs slam rail industry

Rail tracks

MPs on the Transport Committee have said this summer’s rail timetable chaos should be a catalyst for “genuine change” and labelled the increase in fares from 2 January as ‘adding insult to injury’ for passengers.

In a damning report, the committee also said season ticket holders on the worst-affected lines should receive a discount on their 2019 tickets “equivalent to the price rise announced on 30 November”, while recent events demonstrate an “overwhelming case” for automated or automatic compensation schemes.

The report, Rail timetable changes: May 2018, concludes that the chaos caused by the introduction of new timetables was partly due to the “astonishing complexity” of the fragmented railway system, in which companies operating on publicly-owned and managed infrastructure have competing commercial interests. MPs said the system could not cope with the scale of the change, which affected more than half the railways.

MPs also put some of the blame on transport secretary Chris Grayling, saying he had the “ultimate authority to judge the trade-offs between competing commercial interests and could step in to avert the crisis by halting implementation”. However, the committee concedes that Grayling did not receive all the information he would have needed to make that decision.

But he still should’ve been “more proactive” and therefore cannot “absolve himself completely of all responsibility”, according to the report.

At the height of the chaos, Grayling repeatedly shifted blame onto the rail operators and Network Rail, claiming he ‘doesn’t run the railways’.

In the months since, Grayling has opened a review of the rail industry, which is due to produce a white paper by Autumn 2019 to recommend reforms to be implemented from 2020.

He also threatened to take action against Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which runs the lines that faced some of the worst delays resulting from the new timetable, but has decided not to strip the company of its franchises.

However, Grayling says GTR will make no profit from its franchise this year and will also be forced to contribute £15 million towards “tangible improvements for passengers”.

Lilian Greenwood MP, chair of the Transport Committee, said: “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.

“Friday’s announcement of fare rises averaging 3.1 per cent in 2019, which came after we had agreed our report, adds insult to passengers’ injury. We recommend that 2018 season ticket holders most affected by the timetabling crisis receive a discount to their 2019 season tickets equivalent to the increase...”

The report comes after the Office of Road and Rail ordered Network Rail to put forward tangible plans for improving its performance in the wake of the worst delays seen since 2014.

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