‘Gap in responsibility’ highlighted in report on rail blunders

A Thameslink train at Potters Bar train station. Picture: DANNY LOO

A Thameslink train at Potters Bar train station. Picture: DANNY LOO - Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO

An inquiry into the chaos that ensued following the introduction of Govia Thameslink Railway’s May timetable has revealed “an apparent gap in industry responsibility and accountability”.

At the request of the government, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) established an inquiry into the factors that contributed to “the failure to produce and implement a satisfactory operational timetable” in May 2018.

ORR noted how the new timetable “caused major disruption to services for passengers especially in the North of England and in the South East”.

The inquiry was conducted in addition to ORR’s existing monitoring and investigation activity that began in February 2018.

The three-month inquiry has found that Network Rail, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), Northern, the Department for Transport (DfT), and the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) “all made mistakes, which contributed to the collapse of services, particularly on the GTR and Northern routes”.

ORR said a key issue was “an apparent gap in industry responsibility and accountability for managing systemic risks, and that needs to change”.

Other key findings are:

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•The System Operator (SO) function within Network Rail was in the best position to understand and manage the risks, but did not take sufficient action, especially in the critical period of autumn 2017.

•Neither GTR nor Northern were properly aware of or prepared for the problems in delivering the timetable and they did not do enough to provide accurate information to passengers when disruption occurred.

•Both DfT and ORR are responsible for overseeing aspects of the industry, but neither sufficiently questioned assurances they received from the industry about the risk of disruption.

ORR states in the report: “In the weeks following 20 May 2018, many passengers travelling on the Northern and GTR networks were severely disrupted as a result of the failure of the introduction of a major new timetable, and passengers on many other networks suffered knock-on disruption to their services.

“This timetable was intended to deliver benefits to passengers as a result of major changes to the network but instead saw passengers experience significant cancellations and delays to their services.

“On the Northern network up to 310 scheduled trains did not run each weekday during the disruption and 470 scheduled trains per weekday did not run on the GTR network.

“Where trains did not run, there were significant delays and passengers were unable to rely on the timetable.

“The impact of this experience has had a significant financial and emotional cost to those passengers affected, directly impacting upon their work and families and in some circumstances their personal safety.

“This has undermined the trust in the railway and the reliance they place upon it in their lives.”