Transport secretary Chris Grayling has admitted that nobody took charge of dealing with the problems that led to rail chaos affecting thousands of passengers over the summer.
Commuters faced weeks of delayed and cancelled services after a botched timetable shake-up in May caused up to 470 trains a day cancelled on the Govia Thameslink Railway network.
Appearing before the Transport Select Committee on Monday evening, Grayling said that a report published last month by the Office of Rail and Road was right to conclude that “nobody took charge” of dealing with the problems. The review, led by ORR chair Stephen Glaister said the Department for Transport bore some responsibility for the delays as well as rail operators and Network Rail.
“There was not enough clear accountability,” Gralying told MPs, adding: “We have in my view too much dilution of accountability and that in my mind is what now needs to change.”
Grayling said he had told Andrew Haines, who took over as chief executive of Network Rail in May, to take charge of planned timetable changes in December and next June. Haines had established a project group to oversee the changes, he said, and scaled down planned changes “to ensure we cannot get the same disruption again”.
The transport secretary said there had been “much more active engagement” on the part of his department and the ORR with industry on the upcoming changes than it had on the May timetable changes.
He told MPs the lack of accountability within the rail industry was symptomatic of changes that had taken place over the last 20 years, including a huge increase in demand for services.
It was “no secret” there were problems with the UK’s franchising model, he added, nodding to the failed Virgin East Coast rail franchise that was nationalised earlier this year,
“We have a franchise model that is shaky, we have an industry where accountability is too diluted, there are too many conversations that in this industry that take place around contractual requirements rather than getting the job done in the right way for passengers and freight users. That now has to change,” Grayling said.
He said the department had not ruled out the possibility of stripping GTR of its rail franchise, but that this could be legally difficult. Removal of a franchise must be based on poor performance over a sustained rather than a concentrated period, he said.
He told MPs this should only happen if it did not risk further disruption to passengers.
“For all of those people saying take back control of the franchise, I don’t have a team of people sitting in an office down the corridor who can run Britain’s biggest franchise suddenly overnight,” he said.
“[GTR] clearly have not met all of their contractual requirements this summer,” he said. “We are now finalising the action we will take off the back of that.”