Timetable chaos ‘must be end of the line’ for Southern and Thameslink operator

East Worthing and Shoreham MP Tim Loughton speaking about GTR services in the Commons (photo from Parliament.tv).
East Worthing and Shoreham MP Tim Loughton speaking about GTR services in the Commons (photo from Parliament.tv).

Rail chaos caused by new timetables ‘must be the end of the line’ for the Southern and Thameslink franchise, according to one MP.

Govia Thameslink Railway, which also runs Gatwick Express services, brought in the changes on May 20.

But since then it has cancelled hundreds of Thameslink services and was forced to bring in a reduced temporary timetable.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced an independent inquiry into the problems during a speech in the House of Commons on Monday.

The work will be led by Stephen Glaister, chair of the Office of Rail and Road.

A spokesman for GTR said: “We welcome the inquiry and will co-operate fully. The industry as a whole undoubtedly has lessons to learn from what has happened.”

Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, said: “I am sure that I speak on behalf of thousands of commuters in Sussex when I say that this must be the end of the line for the GTR franchise.

“We were constantly assured that the driver shortage had been addressed, but now we are told that the problem is the wrong type of drivers on the line.

“Will the Secretary of State assure me that the compensation scheme will be a realistic one, that it will be paid for not by his department this time but by the train operators, and that, within six months maximum of the Glaister review reporting, he will be in a position to take back that franchise?”

Mr Grayling replied: “The people responsible for this have to pay the cost. In terms of the report, I will be absolutely clear that if I need to take action, I will be ready to take action.”

Meanwhile Sir Peter Bottomley, Worthing West MP, said: “Our constituents who are passengers, and our constituents who work on the railways, want to get this solved, and the best thing to do is to give backing to those in the industry and to the Secretary of State to ensure that that happens.”

He added: “Anyone who has no expertise should take advice from those who can make things better. That requires getting everyone - unions, managers and knowledgeable passengers — together to see how best we can get out of the hole we are in at the moment.

“It is too bad, and it has been too bad for too long.”

While a report is due from by the end of the year Mr Grayling said he wanted initial responses much sooner.

In parallel he would be asking Department for Transport officials to assess whether GTR has met its contractual obligations in planning and delivering the timetable changes.

This will look at if the operator had sufficient resources and skills to deliver the new timetable and what contingency plans were in place.

If the company is found to be materially in breach of its contractual obligations Mr Grayling would take ‘appropriate enforcement action’.

He acknowledged the late finalisation of the timetables by Network Rail had not given train operators enough time to plan crew schedules or complete crew training, but also suggested GTR did not have enough drivers with the route knowledge required and had no clear fall-back plan.

The process of introducing GTR’s new timetable was overseen by both an industry readiness board and an independent assurance panel.

Mr Grayling described how both groups had told him they had been given no information to suggest the new timetable should not be implemented as planned, while three weeks before May 20 he had been assured personally by GTR it was ready to go ahead with the changes.

Charles Horton, chief executive officer at GTR, said they were ‘sorry that we have not been able to deliver the service that passengers expect’.

Mark Carne, Network Rail’s chief executive, added: “We are all firmly focused on fixing this issue as quickly as possible to give passengers the reliable service they need and deserve.

“At the moment, in some parts of the country, that simply isn’t happening and for that I’d like to wholeheartedly apologise.”