Transport secretary Chris Grayling should have been "more proactive" in averting the crisis that unfolded from the timetable upgrade in May, MPs have said.
The Transport Select Committee said it was "not reasonable" of Grayling to "absolve himself of all responsibility" in the May timetable change, which resulted in widespread cancellations, delays and overcrowding.
The committee said the chaos 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.
"Only the secretary of state had the ultimate authority to judge the trade-offs between competing commercial interests and could step in to avert the crisis by halting implementation," the report said, "but he was not given all the information he required to make that decision."
Earlier in September the rail regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) conducted its own investigation into the problems in May. It found that the government, regulators and the owner of the rail network were all part of a comedy of errors which led to the chaos, with Northern and Govia Thameslink Railway, the train operating companies at the heart of the chaos, failing to provide adequate information to passengers.
The Department for Transport (DfT), Network Rail and the ORR itself all missed opportunities to prevent the weeks of delays and cancellations, forcing the chair of the ORR, Stephen Glaister, to conclude that "nobody took charge".
Following the review's publication 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.
Transport Committee chair Lilian Greenwood 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.
“The complex system by which we operate our rail services failed to cope with the scale of change planned for May 2018. The secretary of state has announced a year-long independent rail review, to be conducted by Keith Williams. While the need for fundamental reform is beyond doubt, passengers cannot wait until 2020 for key lessons to be learned and reforms implemented."
On Friday last week it was announced that rail fare prices would rise by 3.1 per cent in 2019, which Greenwood said added "insult to injury".
The report recommended that passengers with a 2018 season ticket who were most affected by the timetabling crisis receive a discount on their season tickets in 2019, equivalent to the rise announced last week.
The committee also recommended that a new post be created outside of Network Rail to oversee the timetabling process. This would be to ensure there is "genuinely independent oversight" that is removed from "commercial and political pressures".
Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said: “We know that passengers were badly let down in May and as an industry we are really sorry. It is important we act now, learn lessons and take on board recommendations. We have to work together to make sure our capacity to deliver change matches the expectations that passengers rightly have and deserve.
“We agree that a whole system approach to timetable planning and implementation, with effective oversight and accountability, must be the way forward. This will require a fundamental shift in how we undertake industry planning and we have already started on that path as we look to ensure that passengers see the benefit of record investment and new services, welcoming them with confidence rather than concern.”
Patrick Verwer, GTR chief executive said the operator had made "significant improvements" for passengers following the ORR review.
“We are very sorry for the disruption the May timetable caused and have already processed compensation claims for 68,000 season ticket holders, with the deadline for claims extended to 31 January 2019," he said.
“Since July, services on Thameslink and Great Northern have become more stable and reliable. Next week we will begin to introduce 200 mainly off-peak services to complete the phased roll-out of the May weekday timetable, bringing the total number of daily weekday services to 3,600.”
A DfT spokesperson said: “We have already worked with the industry to deliver special compensation schemes on Northern, TransPennine Express and GTR, which provides the equivalent of up to 8 per cent of the cost of an annual season ticket for those most severely impacted.
“The disruption following the May timetable change demonstrated that significant change is required in the rail industry. That is why we launched the Williams review to consider all parts of the industry in order to put passengers first, with reforms to begin from 2020.”