MPs have hit out at the government for its delay in responding to a report into last year's May timetable chaos, which found that transport secretary Chris Grayling could have done more to avert the troubles.
The Transport Select Committee said it was "disappointing" that the Department for Transport (DfT) had decided to delay its response to the report until after it concludes the Williams rail review, which Grayling called last autumn following the passenger backlash.
In its original report the committee said the transport secretary should have been "more proactive" in averting the crisis that unfolded from the timetable upgrade in May, which resulted in widespread delays, cancellations and overcrowding.
It added that it was "not reasonable" of Grayling to "absolve himself of all responsibility" in the saga, which the committee said was the result of the "astonishing complexity of a fragmented railway" in which private train companies operate on railways managed by state-owned Network Rail with competing commercial interests.
Chair of the committee, Lilian Greenwood, said: "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. Unsurprisingly, there is no comment on the lack of leadership from the department or the secretary of state.
“Most disappointing of all is the decision to defer any substantive response to our recommendations until after the outcome of the Williams review, some two years after the 2018 May disruption. The department has missed an opportunity to show that passengers truly are at the top of its priorities. 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.”
Following the May timetable upgrade Grayling commissioned a "root and branch" review into the rail industry led by former British Airways boss Keith Williams, which will focus on the effectiveness of the franchise system in particular. The white paper is due to be released later this year, with reforms coming into force in 2020.
A DfT spokesperson said: “Following the timetabling change in May we took decisive action, working closely with the industry to deliver special compensation schemes on Northern, TransPennine Express and GTR. These provided the equivalent of up to eight per cent of the cost of an annual season ticket for those most severely impacted.
“The disruption caused by the May change also clearly demonstrated that significant change is required within the rail industry. That is why in the immediate term we tasked Network Rail with strengthening its industry-wide timetabling oversight role. We have also launched the Williams review to ensure the focus is putting passengers first. We expect a white paper in 2019, and will begin implementing recommendations in 2020.”