The Transport Select Committee has rapped the Department for Transport for delaying its response to a report on the botched introduction of a rail schedule change that affected thousands of passengers’ journeys last summer.
The committee’s report, published in December, called for urgent action to address a lack of effective governance and decision-making structures overseeing train timetable changes. It found the events of May 2018, which included numerous cancellations and delays to journeys, arose from a “fragmented, over-complicated system with competing contractual interests” with too little accountability, and said DfT should treat it as a “genuine catalyst for change”.
In a special report published by the committee yesterday, DfT broadly accepted the findings of the report. However, the department said it would not give substantive responses to the recommendations until the review it has commissioned into the timetabling fiasco had concluded.
The department announced a “root and branch” review of the rail system by former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams in September.
Committee chair Lilian Greenwood said it was “disappointing” that the department planned to wait until after the Williams Review had concluded – which is expected to be later this year – to respond in full to the MPs’ recommendations.
Some of the major points raised in the December report that DfT did not address included the MPs’ insistence that the department had failed to show adequate leadership during the timetabling chaos, and its conclusion that transport secretary Chris Grayling bore some responsibility for the disruption.
The committee had also called on the government to make an independent system operator – a role that could be filled by Andrew Haines the chief executive of infrastructure owner Network Rail – responsible for taking charge of rail timetabling changes. However holds the post must have clear decision-making powers, the committee said.
The department agreed that “roles need to be clarified and further improvements to the process need to be made,” but added: “The government considers the role of the system operator to be essential but notes that the function is relatively new and its systems and processes are developing as lessons are learnt.”
Elsewhere in the response, DfT backed the committee’s call for the Office of Road and Railto prove its effectiveness as a regulator by stepping up its enforcement action and acting quickly to implement the outcomes of a consultation it had carried out on how to protect disabled passengers.
Greenwood said people could “judge for themselves the extent to which the DfT actually addresses the conclusions and recommendations from our report”.
“Despite our pleas on behalf of passengers for swift reform and clear lines of accountability – the Department for Transport fails to clarify where responsibility for national rail timetabling will lie, whether it will be independent, or if rail franchisees will have to sign up to best practice,” she said.
“Unsurprisingly, there is no comment on the lack of leadership from the department or the secretary of state.”
She said the decision to wait until the Williams Review was completed to respond further was “most disappointing of all”.
“The review is important, but I think the department has missed an opportunity to show that passengers truly are at the top of its priorities,” she said.
“At the time when passengers are looking for reassurance that effective, independent oversight will bring genuine change, there is none to be found and instead the can is kicked a bit further down the track.”