I am pleased to take the earliest opportunity to update the House on the recent difficulties around the timetable changes, in particular on some GTR and Northern routes.
I want to be absolutely clear: passengers on these franchises are facing totally unsatisfactory levels of service. It is my and my Department’s No. 1 priority to make sure that the industry restores reliability for passengers to an acceptable level as soon as possible. I assure the passengers affected that I share their frustration about what has happened, and that I am sorry that this has taken place.
The timetable change was intended to deliver the benefits to passengers of major investments in the rail network, meaning new trains, including all trains on the Northern and TransPennine Express networks, being either new or refurbished; the Great North Rail Project infrastructure upgrades worth well over £1 billion, such as those at the Ordsall Chord and Liverpool Lime Street; and in the south-east, through the Thameslink programme, new trains and improved stations, including London Bridge and Blackfriars.
The huge growth in passenger numbers in recent years demanded expanded routes, services and extra seats, but this timetable change has resulted instead in unacceptable disruption for the passengers who rely on these services. The most important thing right now is to get things back to a position of stability for those passengers, but it is also vital to understand what has happened and why we are in the situation we are in today. The circumstances of the failures are different on the Northern and GTR networks.
The investigations that are being carried out right now are providing more information about what has gone wrong, but it is worth being clear that the industry remained of the view until the last moment that it would be able to deliver the changes. That is the bit that everyone will find hard to understand and it is why there has to be a proper investigation into what has taken place.
On Northern, which is co-managed through the Rail North Partnership by Transport for the North and my Department, early analysis shows that the key issue was that Network Rail did not deliver infrastructure upgrades in time, in particular the Bolton electrification scheme, with damaging consequences. This forced plans to be changed at a very late stage, requiring a complete overhaul of logistics and crew planning. The early analysis also shows that on GTR’s Thameslink and Great Northern routes, the industry timetable developed by Network Rail was very late to be finalised. That meant that train operators did not have enough time to plan crew schedules or complete crew training, affecting a range of other complex issues that impact on the service on what is already a highly congested network.
It is also clear to me that both Northern and GTR were not sufficiently prepared to manage a timetable change of this scale. GTR did not have enough drivers with the route knowledge required to operate the new timetable. Neither Northern nor GTR had a clear fall-back plan.
In GTR’s case, the process of introducing the new timetable has been overseen for the past two years by an industry readiness board, comprising some of the most senior people in the industry, which told me it had been given no information to suggest the new timetable should not be implemented as planned, albeit with some likely early issues as it bedded down. This body was set up specifically to ensure that all parts of the rail network—Network Rail, GTR, other train operators—were ready to implement these major timetable changes. It should have been clear to it that some key parties were not ready. It did not raise this risk.
The Department received advice from the Thameslink readiness board that, while there were challenges delivering the May 2018 timetable—namely, the logistics of moving fleet and staff—a three-week transition period would allow for minimal disruption. My officials were assured that the other mitigations in place were sufficient and reasonable. Indeed, as few as three weeks before the timetable was to be implemented, GTR itself assured me personally that it was ready to implement the changes. Clearly this was wrong, and that is totally unacceptable.
The rail industry has collectively failed to deliver for the passengers it serves. It is right that the industry has apologised for the situation we are currently in and that we learn the lessons for the future, but right now the focus should be on restoring the reliability of its service to passengers. This morning, I met again with chief executives of Network Rail, GTR and Northern—the latest in a series of meetings that I and my Department have been holding with these organisations—and the Rail Minister has today been to Network Rail’s control centre at its Milton Keynes headquarters. We have made it clear to them all that the current services are still not good enough. I have also demanded that Network Rail and the train operator work more collaboratively across the industry to resolve the situation, where necessary by using resources from other train operators to support the recovery effort. Officials in my Department are working around the clock to oversee this process. We have strengthened resources in both the Department and Rail North Partnership, which oversees the Northern franchise, to hold the industry to account for improving services.
I would like to be able to tell the House that there is an easy solution or that the Department could simply step in and make the problems passengers are facing go away—if there were a way of doing so, I would do it without a moment’s hesitation—but ultimately the solution can only be delivered by the rail industry. These problems can only be fixed by Network Rail and the train operators methodically working through the timetable and re-planning train paths and driver resourcing to deliver a more reliable service. It is for such reasons that I am committed to unifying the operations of track and trains, where appropriate, to ensure that we do not encounter such problems in the future.
Northern Rail has agreed an action plan with Rail North Partnership that is focused on improving driver rostering so as to get more trains running as quickly as possible; rapidly increasing driver training on new routes; providing for additional contingency drivers and management presence at key locations in Manchester; and putting extra peak services into the timetable along the Bolton corridor. Work on this action plan has been under way for some time. They have also published temporary timetables that will be more deliverable and will give passengers much more confidence in the reliability of their service. This will mean removing certain services from the new expanded timetable while still ensuring an improvement in the total number of services run by Northern compared to before the timetable change. Alternative arrangements will be made for passengers negatively impacted by the changes. I believe that this temporary measure is necessary to stabilise the service and enable improvements to be introduced gradually.
On GTR, there are more services running on a day-to-day basis today than before the timetable change, while Southern and Gatwick Express services are performing well on some routes but not all. GTR is not currently able, however, to deliver all planned services on Thameslink and Great Northern routes. In order to give passengers more confidence, it is removing services in advance from its timetable rather than on the day and reducing weekend services to pre-May levels. These measures will be in place until a full re-planning of driver resourcing has been completed.
I would like to make it clear that, while I expect to see stable timetables restored on both networks in the coming days, I expect the full May timetable and all the extra trains to be introduced in stages over the coming months to ensure it can be delivered properly this time. Once the full service is operating on GTR, 24 Thameslink trains will run through central London every hour, and by next year, 80 more stations will have direct services to central London stations such as Farringdon, City Thameslink and Blackfriars. There will also be 115 new trains and more than 1,000 new carriages providing faster, more frequent and more reliable journeys for passengers.
On Northern, the great north rail project, an investment of well over £1 billion in the region’s rail network, will enable by 2020 faster and more comfortable journeys as well as new direct services across the north and beyond. By 2020, the train operators, Northern and TransPennine Express, will deliver room for 40,000 extra passengers, and more than 2,000 extra services a week.
That, however, is the future. What matters now is restoring a stable service for passengers today. I completely understand their anger about the level of disruption that the timetable change has caused in recent weeks. There must, of course, be a special compensation scheme for passengers on affected routes on both GTR and Northern. In the case of Northern, the scheme will be subject to agreement with the board of Transport for the North, although I doubt that the board will have a problem with it. The purpose of the scheme, which will be introduced and funded by the industry, will be to ensure that regular rail customers receive appropriate redress for the disruption that they have experienced. The industry will set out more details of the eligibility requirements, and of how season ticket holders can claim, but I think it is very important for passengers—particularly in the north, where disruption has been protracted—to be given entitlements similar to those conferred by last year’s Southern passenger compensation scheme. Commuters in the north are important, as important as commuters in the south, and they should receive comparable support.
It is clear to me that, aside from Network Rail’s late finalisation of the timetable, GTR and Northern were not sufficiently prepared to manage a timetable change of this scale, so today I am also announcing that work has begun to set up an inquiry into the May timetable implementation. It will be carried out by the independent Office of Rail and Road, and chaired by Professor Stephen Glaister. It is necessary to have a full inquiry, and Professor Glaister will lead one. The inquiry will consider why the system as a whole failed to produce and implement an effective timetable. Its findings will be shared as early as possible with me and with the rail industry, so that lessons can be learnt in advance of future major timetable changes. The final report will be published by the Office of Rail Regulation by the end of the year, but I want to see initial responses much sooner than that.
In parallel to the inquiry, my Department will assess whether GTR and Northern met their contractual obligations in the planning and delivery of the timetable change. It will consider whether the issues could have been reasonably foreseen and different action taken to prevent the high levels of disruption that passengers are experiencing.
In GTR’s case, the assessment will cover whether the operator had sufficient resources and skills to deliver the new timetable and whether drivers could have been trained in a faster and more effective way, and will examine the contingency and risk management arrangements currently in place. If it is found that GTR is materially in breach of its contractual obligations, I will take appropriate enforcement action against it. That will include using the full force of the franchise agreement and my powers under the Railways Act 2005, and consideration of how such a failure affects GTR’s eligibility to hold a franchise bidding passport. In the case of Northern, my Department will assess the operator’s planning, risk assessment and resilience in preparing for the May timetable change. Bearing in mind Network Rail’s failure to deliver infrastructure on time, we will hold the operator to the terms of its contractual obligations.
I will not be afraid to take enforcement action when it is necessary, but it is right to go through the process of the inquiry and to understand where fault truly lies. I will not hold back from taking appropriate action if the review finds that there has been negligent behaviour.
Given the importance that Members throughout the House ascribe to these issues, I have arranged for both Northern and GTR to come to the House this week to discuss with colleagues any specific issues that they wish to raise with the operators. I am also meeting Members in all parts of the House today to discuss the issues with them. I am incredibly frustrated that what should have been an improvement in services for passengers has turned into significant disruption, and I am sorry about the levels of disruption that passengers are experiencing. I am also sorry for the staff members who have been caught at the sharp end of these changes.
There clearly have been major failures that have led to the situation that we are in today. I am clear about the fact that the industry must and will be held to account for this, but my immediate priority is to ensure that we improve train services to an acceptable level as quickly as possible, and that will remain my priority.
I am grateful for advance sight of the Secretary of State’s statement—for once. Here we go again, with yet another chapter in the never-ending story of our troubled railways. Not only have train timetables been turned upside down, but the Transport Secretary seems to have run into his own timetabling problems in meetings with Members today.
It is said that Henry Kissinger once asked who he should call if he wanted to speak to Europe. The answer was not clear. Similarly, I would ask who I should call if I want to speak to the UK rail industry. Therein lies the heart of today’s problem and the whole rail debate more generally: no one will take responsibility for Great Britain’s rail industry. But, amid all the clamour, recriminations and buck-passing that characterise discussions about rail there is one person who is ultimately responsible: the Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). But he blames Network Rail for the timetabling failures. Yes, Network Rail has not delivered, but he seems to forget that, as a company limited by guarantee, Network Rail has one member: the Secretary of State for Transport—him. He is the man in charge—allegedly. The right hon. Gentleman might want to blame Network Rail, but it is he who has failed in his responsibility to oversee it; the buck stops with him. What is more, the right hon. Gentleman has burnt his bridges with the leadership of Network Rail, which can only have damaged his oversight of this process. Is not this a terrible failure of him and his role atop the system?
The Northern Rail and Thameslink contracts were awarded by the right hon. Gentleman’s Department to private operators. It is the job of his Department to ensure that the companies fulfil their contracts. Arriva and GTR have had years to prepare for these timetable changes; neither have trained enough drivers to deliver the timetable changes, yet the Department has failed to hold the companies to account. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that it is within the franchise agreement for Arriva to report directly to him on progress in recruiting and training drivers? Does not the buck, once again, stop with him?
GTR even had its own readiness board to implement the timetable changes, except that it was not ready; we could not make this up. Chris Gibb’s report on Southern exactly a year ago highlighted the issue of driver numbers as a major operational issue within rail. Why did the Secretary of State not take the report as an alert to review the availability of the train drivers that were needed across the country and do something about it? He says the Office of Rail Regulation will report on the failings by the end of the year, but, with the new timetable due in December, this will be too late. What confidence can we have that it will not be another shambles? Is not the reality that this Secretary of State has been asleep at the wheel and this is just the latest episode in a series of rail management failures on his watch?
The right hon. Gentleman is determined to cling on to the micromanagement of the railway when it suits him, but he will quickly point the finger of blame when things go wrong. He cannot have it both ways. The Secretary of State says he is sorry for the disruption passengers are facing. That is not good enough; he should apologise to passengers for his failures that have put their jobs at risks and played havoc with their family life.
The travelling public and the rail industry have no faith in this Transport Secretary to fix this situation. Were the Prime Minister not so enfeebled, she would sack him. If he had any concept of responsibility, he would resign. The Transport Secretary should do the right thing and step aside.
I was rather expecting the hon. Gentleman to say that, and I respond simply by saying that it is my job to make sure that the problem is fixed, and that is what I intend to do. But the Opposition cannot have it both ways: half the time the hon. Gentleman is saying to me that the Government should run the railways, but when something goes wrong he says that it is the Government’s fault that we are not running the railways properly. They cannot have it both ways.
There are two specific points. On what we are going to do about the timetable in December, I have been very clear in the letter I sent to all colleagues last week that we are not going to do a major change of this kind again in the way that has happened in the last couple of months; it must be done in a more measured and careful way. We are already doing work now on how that timetable change should happen—how it should be modified—and the incoming chief executive of Network Rail, Andrew Haines, who I think will bring enormous experience to this, is the person who was responsible 10 years ago for the very successful timetable change on South Western. I have great confidence that as he comes into the organisation in the coming months, he will be able to put in place a plan for timetable change both at the end of this year and in the future that works better for passengers, who are the most important people in all of this.
The hon. Gentleman also asked me why we did not pay more attention to Chris Gibb’s report last year. Actually, we did. We appointed Chris Gibb chairman of the industry readiness board. Chris is one of the most experienced and respected figures in the rail industry, but that board still did not gather the scale of the problem that lay ahead when it last reported to me in May. Lessons have to be learned by the people on that board. We have to make sure that this cannot happen again, and everyone in the rail industry—and everyone in my Department, including me—is working to ensure that that happens.
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.
Anticipating an article by Nigel Harris in Rail magazine, I would suggest that those who have power need to be accountable and those who are accountable need to have power.
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.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend; I think that the railways are going to have to change significantly as a result of what has happened. However, I say to those who are saying that we should sack the franchisees that simply sacking the people who are working today will not solve the problem, because I do not have some other group of people down the corridor who are able to take over. We have to make sure that everyone has all the necessary support from across the industry to deliver solutions for passengers and get back to stability as quickly as possible. I absolutely accept what my hon. Friend says.
Another week, another rail shambles. When will the Secretary of State admit that the rail franchise system is broken and do something to fix it properly? It was really disappointing to hear that travellers who were forced to get rail replacement buses at short notice were sometimes turned away because the buses were full or simply did not turn up. That is even more ironic considering that Arriva also operates overlapping bus groups. That just highlights the farce that is going on at the moment.
We know that late-running Network Rail projects reduced the time available for train operators to plan the new schedules, but what assessment has the Secretary of State made of his Department’s culpability in this, with regard to Network Rail? Despite assurances that all was well, it is now clear that there was no possibility of the timetables being capable of being operated in full from day one. Why did no one in the train operating companies, Network Rail or the Department for Transport ask for a postponement of the new timetable roll-out?
The Secretary of State has said that he will take the strongest enforcement action against GTR if it has broken its franchise agreement. Will that action be stronger than that taken against Virgin Trains East Coast, which has been allowed to walk away owing the Department for Transport billions of pounds?
What is the Secretary of State’s exact timeframe for resolving these timetable issues? He has mentioned putting in additional resources. What additional resources will be put in from his Department? What is he doing to ensure that the driver shortage is not met by poaching drivers from other franchises, which could have an impact on services elsewhere? On the question of compensation, what will he do to ensure that the rail industry does not recover the costs of compensation from other fare-paying passengers?
The Secretary of State continually highlights Network Rail failings, but when will he accept that he has responsibility and culpability for Network Rail and fall on his own sword? An apology is not good enough.
As I have said, the key issue now is to sort out the problems. The hon. Gentleman asked about failings in my Department and elsewhere. I have asked Stephen Glaister to look at everything that has happened and to report back publicly so that we can know exactly what has gone wrong and particularly so that we can ensure that it cannot happen again. The hon. Gentleman asked about resources. My Department is deploying extra people on this, as is the industry. For example, GTR has borrowed drivers from freight operators to try to deal with some of the shortages on its rosters. On the question of compensation costs, my view is that they should be paid by the people who are responsible.
GTR has told me that these delays are going to carry on until mid-July. Does the Secretary of State agree that that is utterly unacceptable? Will he ensure that Network Rail and GTR fix these problems in a matter of days, not weeks?
I share my right hon. Friend’s frustration. The most important thing is to end the situation in which we have mass cancellations and people cannot plan their journeys. The important thing now is to reintroduce the services that were supposed to be part of the May timetable step by step, so that we do not end up having the same problem all over again. First, we have to ensure that we have a dependable service that people know will be there when they turn up. Secondly, we need to move back, in a responsible, phased way, to the expanded timetable with the thousands of new trains that should have been there on 20 May.
Train operators and Network Rail have undoubtedly failed dismally, but the Department for Transport signed off GTR’s unworkable timetable proposals in the face of Network Rail opposition, delayed the decision to agree a phased introduction of the new Thameslink timetable, rejected Chris Gibb’s recommendation of a longer eight-phase implementation, required a reduction in spending on train planning by 2019 despite the biggest timetable change in more than a decade, and failed to spot that driver shortages and training needs would undermine the main timetable. Why has the Secretary of State, both in his letter to MPs and again today, failed to take any responsibility for his Department’s role in the shambles endured by passengers up and down the country?
I fully expect Stephen Glaister’s review to look at all the players in this, including my Department. The industry readiness board set up by my Department to assess the process of introducing the new Thameslink timetable recommended in May that the timetable could go ahead. When experts are called in for advice and they advise us to do one thing, it is generally a good idea to listen to them.
At Letchworth station this morning, I spoke to passengers who have suffered great delays and many cancellations, children going to school whose train had been cancelled—one of them in tears—and workers who have been told, “You can’t keep on being late like this.” Is it not time that Govia Thameslink Railway actually produced the timetable, the service and the reliability of information that those people—my constituents—deserve? What is going to be done to encourage them to get on with it and provide that service quickly?
The No. 1 priority is to restore a reliable timetable, and I have been clear that GTR has an urgent duty to do so. There is unquestionably a large question mark over its future, but it needs to sort the problem out as quickly as possible to have any chance of surviving in the rail industry.
I have been in this House for the best part of a decade and I have never seen such a complacent performance from a Secretary of State at the Dispatch Box. He needs to understand that he is in deep trouble over this. The situation will go on for months and months, and the underlying issues behind the timetable changes and why they have gone wrong land squarely with his Department. Does he agree that his unwillingness to accept any responsibility undermines his efforts to put things right?
This is simply about everyone in the industry and my Department working to ensure that we have a stable timetable for passengers. That is the most important priority right now.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that two villages in my constituency, Eynsford and Shoreham, are now virtually cut off? Commuters cannot get up to London, and their children cannot get down to school in Sevenoaks. Will he use the authority of his office to persuade Southeastern to stop at least one or two of its peak-hour fast services during the current disruption to give those two villages a chance of normal life?
Absolutely. I have already asked my office to action work to try to find a rapid solution to the problems at those two stations.
The Secretary of State knows that every single train on the Lakes line is to be cancelled over the next two weeks, and at least 11 trains have been cancelled on the Furness line so far today. He is clearly not immediately planning to remove the franchise from either line, as he should, and he mentioned neither in his statement. Will he clarify now that, if Arriva Northern asks for an extension to this outrageous two-week suspension, he will refuse such a request? Will he also commit to funding an ambitious marketing campaign to relaunch the lines and boost our local economy in the light of the colossal reputational damage that they are now suffering?
I discussed that very issue with members of Rail North’s board last week. I am profoundly unhappy about this. I have indicated to Arriva that I am not prepared to accept more than the current two weeks and that it should use that two-week period to do engineering work, which will be necessary over the coming months, so that we are not wasting time when a bus service is in place. I have been clear to Arriva that doing this over the long term is simply unacceptable and that it has to get the trains back very quickly.
I make a respectful suggestion to my right hon. Friend, which is that the rail industry readiness board should be taken quietly outside and disposed of. Is he aware that the rail service to East Grinstead, in which he has always taken an interest, has finally fallen over completely, that trains from Haywards Heath, Wivelsfield and Burgess Hill are shorter and more overcrowded, that people’s private lives are being destroyed and that this whole thing is an absolute disaster that must be put right?
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend, and I have communicated that to the company concerned.
Last week 49 trains were cancelled in my constituency, particularly at Bramley train station, meaning that passengers were late for work, for college and for other appointments. Frankly, passengers have lost faith in the Secretary of State. Is it not about time he stepped aside and allowed someone who can fix this problem to do the job?
This problem needs to be fixed as quickly as possible. I respectfully remind the Opposition that a private rail company is involved. Opposition Members keep telling me that we should nationalise it and have the Government running the trains, so they cannot have it both ways.
Enormous investment has gone into the Thameslink programme, with a new fleet of rolling stock and a state-of-the-art digital signalling system. Can the Secretary of State assure me that these new systems are working as planned and that the cause of the problem is not a technical failing?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The real frustration is that this is a consequence of major investment programmes and the delivery at the end of those programmes has gone wrong. The thing I find most frustrating about all this, and I absolutely feel for every single passenger who has waited for a cancelled train in the past week—I get the train every day, and I am as fed up with this as everyone else—is that this is the consequence of a change that resulted from a massive investment programme in the railways. We should now be seeing the fruit of that investment programme. We are not yet seeing it, and we have to make sure that we see it pretty quickly.
I have thousands of constituents who commute daily from Leagrave and Luton stations and who are suffering from recent service failures—I have a sheaf of their complaints in my hand. Is it not the reality that GTR has consistently sought to squeeze more passengers on to too few trains and has employed insufficient drivers in the interest of profits, at the expense of passengers? When are the Government going to accept the grotesque failure of private franchising?
I absolutely understand the pressures on the hon. Gentleman’s line. Part of the objective of this upgrade is to deliver longer trains and more trains, and it is a huge frustration to me that that has not happened. We have to make sure it happens as quickly as possible.
What estimate has been made of the cost to the industry and of the potential impact on the various companies involved?
It is too early to work through that. I am more focused at the moment on getting services back to normal. The companies will undoubtedly bear a cost from this but, as far as I am concerned, the most important thing is making sure that services are back to normal and that passengers are compensated, and the companies will have to meet the cost of that.
The Thameslink service in my constituency from Streatham to London Blackfriars had 37 trains cancelled last Friday, and over 160 trains were cancelled over the course of last week. Every time the Secretary of State comes to the Dispatch Box—like the GTR managers—he blames everyone but himself. He has been in situ for two years. Are not my constituents entitled to think that this is just an utterly pointless Transport Secretary, because nothing ever changes under his watch?
I seem to remember that when I took over there were real problems with Southern metro services at other stations in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. Those problems have now been improved and sorted, and those services are running very well—not across the whole Southern network, but across the Southern metro network. We now need to sort this problem out.
I have spoken to the Secretary of State over many weeks and months about the train issues in my constituency of Hitchin and Harpenden. I know the inquiry he has announced will look into culpability on this matter, but how much more evidence do we need that the senior management of Network Rail and GTR are incompetent, incapable and inept? How long can they go on?
We need to establish who is directly responsible for the decision making that has been got wrong here, establish the truth through the Glaister review and then take appropriate action—and we will.
My constituents, and the people in Yorkshire and the north, love their railway system, but they want it to be a good system that is safe and secure and that runs on time, to get them to work and to see their family. Does the Secretary of State realise just how much misery has been caused to so many families over these past weeks? I am not the most radical or left-wing member of my party, but even I believe that the system of privatisation has not worked and will never work, and that it is time we had a public service railway system in our country.
Of course I understand the frustration that the hon. Gentleman experiences. The irony is that these timetable problems have resulted from a planned expansion in services for his constituents and others across the north. It was designed to deliver thousands of extra train services for people across the north of England. It has not worked today and it must work soon.
My constituents at Garforth, Micklefield and Woodlesford stations are agog at how bad the trains have got, and I lay the blame for a lot of this at the door of Network Rail, not the Secretary of State. There have been plenty of opportunities and plenty of promises made over decades; I was using this train line 20 years ago, and it was rubbish then and it is rubbish now. What can he do to ensure that Network Rail gets a grip of the situation and delivers on the promises it makes?
What we have to see is the completion of the investment programme, the delivery of the new trains and, above all, the sorting out of the timetable. Every train in the north of England is being replaced with either a brand new train or a completely refurbished one. The new trains are due to start arriving later this year. We have big investments taking place. The transpennine rail upgrade, at £3 billion, is the largest investment; it is part of the next rail infrastructure investment programme. It is just hugely frustrating that what has been done so far has yet to deliver the improvements it should to passengers and has actually made things worse. That must stop, and stop quickly.
My constituents have already faced three years of disruption and continual delays at the hands of GTR, Southern and Southeastern, and the chaos from the new timetable is making things worse. The impact of that chaos is more than simply inconvenience; it is taking its toll on relationships, family life and employment, and we have the heart-rending sight of students unable to get to important exams on time. The Secretary of State previously refused, for entirely political reasons, to pass control of suburban rail services in south London to Transport for London. Will he now accept that my constituents deserve their rail services to be run by an organisation that will put passengers ahead of profit, and hand them to TfL to run?
The only thing I would point out, respectfully, to the hon. Lady is that she has just called for the transfer of rail services from Southeastern to Arriva, which runs Northern, while other people are telling me that Arriva is not capable of running Northern. That is the reality of what she is arguing for.
I do not envy my right hon. Friend and neighbour in making this statement today, but I know that he understands the position of Redhill and Epsom only too well, because he has been to visit Redhill station and see the infrastructure improvements that he is putting in place. However, my constituents were promised an improved service in 2014, after the London Bridge investment and for the new timetable in 2018, but even if the timetable was working properly they would have a worse service than they were promised four years ago. They have the privilege of paying the “Redhill hump” for being just outside the London zoning. My right hon. Friend and his Department are part of the industry, because they get the fare income generated under the GTR franchise, so will he please look at being part of the industry and not just dumping the issue of compensation entirely? Will he rapidly ask the Rail Minister to bring forward plans to deal with the Redhill hump? Redhill services have had more cancellations than those anywhere else.
I say to Members on both sides of the Chamber that some places have undoubtedly been inappropriately disadvantaged by the timetable change. The Rail Minister and I are happy to sit down in person with colleagues who represent those places to talk through how we can address those issues in future timetable changes. That offer is open to Members from all parties. We have seen a large number of colleagues today to talk about more short-term issues, and we are happy to have similar conversations as we plan for further timetable changes.
When the Northern franchise was awarded to Arriva, the previous Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin), said:
“We promised passengers a world class rail service that would make the Northern Powerhouse a reality—and I’m delighted”.
He also said that the new operator would
“bring the Northern Powerhouse to life.”
Such promises would be laughable, except that they are tragic, because my constituents cannot get into Manchester for their jobs, cannot get to hospital appointments and cannot return home to pick up their children from childcare places. Why will the Minister not take responsibility, stop passing the buck and fix this now?
I would be delighted to fix it now. It is worth reminding the House that the Northern franchise is a partnership between my Department, Transport for the North and the Northern leaders. It was designed by all of us to deliver precisely the improvements that the hon. Lady describes. It is a huge frustration to me, and I suspect to everyone in the north, that that has not happened, and I assure her that I will do everything that I can. I trust that through the Rail North partnership we will deliver the improvements that have been promised and that her constituents deserve.
My constituents pay one of the highest prices for season tickets, out of taxed income. For more than 13 years, I have been complaining on their behalf as they have encountered one crisis after another, including under the previous Government for the first five of those 13 years. This is another crisis with which my constituents have had to deal. Will the Secretary of State please use his good offices to tell Thameslink to stop cancelling, with little or no notice, stops at Flitwick and Harlington and continuing the service on to Bedford, where people are stranded and find it very difficult to get home? Will he also insist that once trains are running normally, the compensation scheme is not inadequate and does not mean one month’s free rail use, but is more like six months’ free rail use on people’s season tickets? I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement that 24 trains an hour will be running soon, but when? We need them as soon as possible.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and I will make sure that an appropriate compensation package is in place. First and foremost, we have to make sure that there is a service on which people can rely. The thing that I think is currently most frustrating people is not being sure whether the train is going to turn up when they go to the station to catch it. The most important thing right now is for both Northern and GTR to deliver a service on which passengers can depend, so that they know that when a train is due it is actually going to turn up.
The Secretary of State has said that he and his Department were asking questions of the industry readiness board, the operators and Network Rail, and that they did not provide him with information that there was going to be such a disaster. In the interests of transparency, would he be prepared to publish any recorded letters, memos or emails that show that his Department was asking the right questions at the right time, so that we can see what answers he and his Department were given?
I am prepared to be completely transparent over this. I have instructed Stephen Glaister to go through everything, including the conversations with my Department, and that it should be made public. I have no doubt that the Transport Committee will do the same. I am aware of nothing that I would want to be kept hidden. I want everybody to understand what has gone wrong and I want lessons to be learned. The most important thing is that we make sure that this can never happen again. That is my No. 1 priority.
My constituents have suffered in exactly the same way as those of many Members. Frankly, they were misled when they were told that there would be an improved service after London Bridge was sorted, because there has not been and will not be, even when the timetable works as it should. More to the point, my right hon. Friend says that these are consequences of change, and I understand that, but is not the whole point of competent management that people are supposed to anticipate and deal with consequences? When Network Rail puts out a statement saying that
“we are looking at understanding the root cause”,
it sounds as if it is running a seminar rather than a railway. Will my right hon. Friend get rid of these incompetents, now?
I assure my hon. Friend that I am sufficiently angry at what has happened that anyone who has found to be negligent in this matter should not carry on in the job they are doing now. It is simply not acceptable to have a situation in which people are in operational control of something and completely fail to deliver. The whole point of setting up an independent review is to understand exactly what has gone wrong so that lessons can be learned.
Two months before the changes, back in March, I asked the Secretary of State in a written question what steps he and his Department had taken to ensure that there was both adequate track capacity and adequate train numbers to support the proposed rail timetable change in the north-west, because my constituents knew then that there would be a problem. A junior Minister told me in a reply that it was the responsibility of the train operating company to support the proposed timetable changes—nothing to do with his Department. I have constituents who are standing in sweltering heat for five hours, some of whom are fasting for Ramadan—and that is if they can get a train at all. It is an absolute disgrace. What will the Secretary of State do to make it right today?
The answer to the hon. Lady’s question is that a temporary timetable is being put in place on Northern that should stabilise the timetable this week, and then, step by step, it will start to put back in place the extra services that were promised post May.
For at least three years now, my constituents have on occasion been unable to get to work, unable to reach hospital appointments and unable to get home in the evening to see loved ones. GTR has presided over an incompetent railway network for far too long. Can the Secretary of State confirm that if the Glaister report finds that GTR has been negligent in the handling of this timetable introduction, which has certainly been a fiasco, and that if GTR fails urgently to take the steps required to fix it, the measures he is contemplating will include removing its franchise?
I have been absolutely clear that, if GTR is found to be negligent, I will use the powers that I have under the Railways Act 1993 and under the contractual arrangements to deal with this.
There could not be a greater contrast between the millions of pounds of new investment in our railways being introduced by the Welsh Labour Government and the shambles over which the Secretary of State presides. Can he explain what on earth is going on at Great Western Railway? There have been repeated cancellations, delays, trains that are understaffed with no catering services, and trains breaking down. I have spoken to Great Western Railway, to Network Rail and to Hitachi. Hitachi tells me that the Department for Transport did not give a long enough period for testing the trains, and Great Western tells me that it sold off a load of its own trains to Scotland before the new ones were ready. Will he get a grip on that situation?
The Great Western modernisation is delivering new trains and a faster service, and by the end of this year it will deliver an improved timetable. There have been teething problems with the introduction of the new trains, but anyone who has travelled on the new trains in which this Government are investing on the Great Western route will say that they are a step in the right direction.
This really is an appalling situation and one that we should have seen coming down the line given the history of the train operating companies. I have emails from my constituents that complain about lack of communication from Govia Thameslink. They say that the refund procedures are lengthy and difficult to navigate and that the timetable implementation has simply not worked. Will the Secretary of State give serious consideration to introducing a short deadline to ensure that GTR in particular brings the service up to an acceptable standard, or finding another train provider that will do so?
I am very clear that I expect GTR to deliver an improvement to the current situation as a matter of real urgency. If it does not do so, it will lack the credibility to continue as operator.
What a mess! How would the Secretary of State respond to my constituent who contacted my office this morning to say that he has already had to use a significant portion of his annual leave allocation because he has arrived at work hours late every single day over the past couple of weeks? Given the debacle that we have seen on the trains recently, with not just this situation but the delayed electrification and the problems on the east coast main line, does the Secretary of State believe that he has the competence to sort this out?
What I would say to the hon. Lady’s constituent is that I am very, very sorry and that we will have a compensation scheme. Somebody has to sort this out, and that is what I am going to do.
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?
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.
Before the timetable changed, Members across the House warned about the problem. On a number of occasions, I have warned about the problems for people travelling from Southport to Manchester. It seems that anyone who knew anything about railways—especially the travelling public—warned Ministers about the shortage of drivers, the delays and the engineering works. Given all the warnings, why did the Secretary of State not delay the implementation of the new timetable? Frankly, given the chaos, why is he still in his job?
One of the things I want the Glaister report to do is identify why the train companies did not tell us that there was a sufficient problem to delay or halt the introduction of the timetable.
What my constituent commuters and, indeed, I—as a passenger—want to know is, why does Govia Thameslink have such a lack of planning and future foresight? There are to be major engineering works on the London to Brighton main line in October this year and February next year. What assurances can I have for my constituents travelling from Three Bridges, Crawley, Ifield and Gatwick Airport stations that proper planning will be in place to ensure that those engineering works, which are welcome, do not cause undue disruption?
I will ensure that the Rail Minister sits down with my hon. Friend and has a conversation with all those involved to make sure that those works are not an issue. As he knows, there has been necessary investment to sort out problems on the Brighton main line, but we cannot have the works causing inappropriate levels of disruption. There will inevitably be some disruption, because engineering works cannot be done without it, but we have to ensure that they are done in the right way.
To describe my constituents as incandescent would be an absolute understatement. Colleagues across the House have described the impact this fiasco has had on families and individuals. I have listened carefully to the Secretary of State and he seems to have been reassured by the information he has received, but he does not seem to have tested that information to assure himself and his Department that the information was correct. If that is so, how can we be sure that he has tested and is assured of his potential solutions?
I simply say that we have teams of people whose job it is to assure this. They did not see this situation coming; nor did the train operators. The Glaister review is necessary because this should not have been able to happen.
If GTR is telling the Secretary of State that things are getting better in my constituency of South Cambridgeshire, it is not being truthful to him. The experience of my constituents—and, indeed, my experience of travelling in today—is that things are getting worse. Network Rail may hold the lion’s share of the responsibility, but the operators have a role to play too. Why on earth did they not flag at minus three weeks that that period of time was not going to be long enough? The operators clearly told the Secretary of State that everything was fine, but last week they told me that it was not and that three weeks would never have been long enough, so which one of us are they lying to?
I ask the Secretary of State for two actions. First, he says that the emergency timetable that has been implemented today would take us back to pre-May levels. It is not doing so at all; it is actually worse. By the end of this week, can we please aim to have the pre-May timetable back in place? Secondly, we have heard about compensation for Northern passengers being akin to that of Southern last year. I have to tell the Secretary of State that the GTR performance up and down the line in my constituency is as bad, and we should be considered for the same levels of compensation.
I will certainly take on board my hon. Friend’s points. I hope and expect, and am insisting, that we see stabilisation during the course of this week. What matters is that people know which trains are going to run, and that they know a train will be there when they turn up. That is the most important priority, certainly on her line.
Many of my constituents are furious that they cannot get to work owing to driver shortages and mass cancellations in the timetable in what is supposed to be a situation of planned improvements. How much worse does it have to get before the Secretary of State will consider removing the franchise?
Of course the future of both franchises is a genuine issue, but I honestly think that the most important thing right now is to solve the problem. Sacking the people who are working to solve the problem would probably not get us anywhere. As to what will happen a few months’ time, when we have seen the Glaister report—that is a very different question.
Northern Rail has changed or reduced the already limited rush hour services between Congleton and Manchester to such an extent that my constituents say that they are having to face the pressured M6 and M56 commute by car, and that this timetabling change may even breach Northern’s service level agreement. Will the Secretary of State take up with Northern Rail this wholly inadequate rail service for a growing town, and will he require improvement?
As I said a moment ago, the Rail Minister and I are happy to talk to individual colleagues on both sides of the House to look at places where there are issues of this kind. There are rolling timetable changes each year. If we can look at cases where a town has genuinely been disadvantaged, we can see what we can do to sort that out.
Bedford rail users who lost their peak time East Midlands Trains service are still facing the misery of cancellations and delays. Trains are leaving St Pancras half full and are whizzing past Bedford, while my constituents have been forced on to dangerously overcrowded Thameslink trains. This is absolutely ridiculous. Will the Secretary of State stop making excuses and reinstate the Bedford EMT service today?
I have already asked the industry to look at whether it can restore some of the East Midlands Trains services to ease the pressure on Bedford in the interim period, while this disruption is happening. It seems a logical thing to do, given that the train paths are not being occupied by Thameslink at the moment.
This was supposed to be the light at the end of the tunnel, but that is actually a train coming fast the other way. Commuters do not want to play the blame game. They just want their trains to work now. The short-term view of sacking a franchisee overnight would really just mean the same people running the same lines with differently spray-painted trains. I want us to look back and find out how nobody, but nobody, thought to postpone the process, but we should also look to the future: will the Secretary of State tell us how many lifelines GTR needs to have before we realise that it should have no place on the UK’s rail network?
I am very clear that once we know the full culpability for this situation, the appropriate action will be taken if it needs to be taken.
The more the Secretary of State has described this afternoon some of the reasons why this disaster occurred—lack of preparation and lack of time—the more commuters and others on Northern and TransPennine, who have suffered so much misery, will wonder why the introduction of the new timetable was not cancelled, rather than their trains. It is quite clear that the Secretary of State had no idea what was going on. The question that he has not answered today is, why?
As I said, in the case of GTR I had the chief executive in my office three weeks before saying that it would be fine. In the case of the teams running the Northern branch, they indicated to my Department that it would be a difficult start, but not on anything like this scale. I have set up the independent inquiry into what has gone wrong because I am not alone in this. When I talk to other people—on the independent assurance panel and the board set up to oversee the introduction of the timetable, the Rail North team and other people on the Rail North board, and the chair of Transport for the North—it seems that nobody was expecting this. That is completely unacceptable. We need to understand why it has happened and ensure that it can never happen again.
My constituents have suffered huge delays, cancelled services and unacceptable travel uncertainty. What reassurances will the Secretary of State give Northern commuters that they will quickly have a functioning service and that pre-existing timetable gaps locally will also be addressed?
I have been very clear with the companies, as has the Rail North Partnership, that they need to get back to a position of stability. I expect that to mean that they will be running slightly more trains overall across the network than they were prior to 20 May, and that they will move over the next few weeks to reintroduce services in order to get back up to the expanded level that was supposed to exist. If there are individual issues, as I know there are in my hon. Friend’s constituency, the Rail Minister and I will happily sit down and look at how we can address them as we move towards future timetable changes.
On Saturday, two of my constituents, both in their 70s, were unfortunate enough to find themselves on the 23:03 Northern service from Leeds to Brighouse—the culmination of what they called a tortuous journey due to timetable chaos. They described the crammed Northern train as “filthy, a cheap product that has been neglected and flogged to death”. Does the Secretary of State agree with the Mayor of Manchester that Northern Rail is now in the last chance saloon? Can he tell the House when he will stop passing the buck and take full responsibility for this chaos?
Both Northern Rail and GTR have a whole lot of questions to answer and they are in the last chance saloon, so the hon. Lady is absolutely right. On the comments that her constituents rightly make about the trains, it is time for all those trains to be replaced, and over the coming months they are going to be.
The announcement of an inquiry and compensation is of course welcome. Leaving aside the atrocious implementation of the new Northern timetable, will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State bang heads together to sort out the morning peak-time 45-minute gap in services that is affecting my constituents so badly?
We will do that. I will ask the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson), to sit down with my hon. Friend and go through this to make sure that we address some of the timetable anomalies that inevitably come out of a big change like this, which are not just short-term issues but actually structural issues in the timetable.
Yes, of course the timetable changes have been a total fiasco, but does the Secretary of State not understand that people in Furness in Cumbria have been begging him for months to get to grips with this appalling situation? Before Northern took on the full franchise, there were 103 cancellations in a year on the Furness line. Last year, there were 212. Then, in the financial year that has just finished, there were 517—and that was before the timetable changes. Will he stop treating my constituents as though they have got the fag end of what is a pretty horrendous deal right across the country and take this situation seriously, starting tonight?
I and my Department have taken the situation seriously for a long time. With regard to lines like the Furness line, this is why we are investing in new trains to provide a better service. The Cumbrian Coast line has to put up with knackered old trains that should have been sent to the scrapyard years ago. It is finally going to get new trains in the coming months, and they are long overdue.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and his commitment to investigate what has gone wrong and take appropriate action as soon as possible. Does he believe that part of the answer to ensuring that this situation never happens again is combining the operation of track and train under one operator?
Bringing track and train back together is part of the solution for the railways. I am absolutely sure that the railways are going to have to change quite a lot as a result of what has gone on, which has been completely unacceptable. Their ways of working have got to change. We are going to need a reshaped approach for the future.
Disabled passengers in my constituency have been told that they will not be able to catch certain trains as TransPennine has rolled out old stock to try to fix the broken timetables and reduce delays. Does the Transport Secretary agree that this is discrimination and unacceptable? Will he intervene to tell TransPennine that it must make sure that each train is compliant with disability legislation?
It is the duty of all train companies to ensure that that happens. The rolling programme of train replacement means that all trains will be disability-compliant. Every train in the north is being replaced with either a brand new train or a refurbished, as-new train. I will continue to make the point to all train operators—as will the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), who is responsible for accessibility—that they have to make a priority of this.
My right hon. Friend has already visited my constituency and seen the level of frustration and concern about the timetabling. Will he continue to engage positively with me and with rail passengers’ groups so that we get the best possible service for Southport rail users?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We need to work together to make sure that we get some services back to Piccadilly, which I know is very important to so many of his constituents. He and I will work together on that.
Does the Secretary of State recognise the very deep anger among Northern Rail passengers in Liverpool and elsewhere about what has happened? Let me press him on the issue of compensation. He says that there will be a special compensation scheme. In the past week, constituents have been in touch who have had only partial compensation because they hold a Merseytravel Trio ticket and Northern will not compensate them for that part of the journey. Surely appropriate redress must mean full compensation for every passenger.
That is a very serious point, and I am happy to make sure that it is dealt with. There were some similar issues with Southern in relation to Oyster card holders. We need to make sure that the travellers who should be entitled to compensation do get that compensation. That is why we are not rushing into announcing details of the scheme right now: we are going to make it right.
For over six months, my constituents have been using bus services during electrification of the Blackpool to Preston railway line. The current chaos therefore comes at the worst possible time when people were looking forward to a good service, and they are absolutely gutted. Can the Secretary of State assure me that they will be able to enjoy the multi-million pound investment that has gone in? When will he put the full force of his weight behind Northern Rail to make sure that it fixes this problem now? Can my constituents look forward to getting the railway that they had hoped for?
My hon. Friend puts his finger on the frustrations. On his line, the disruption has been a result of long overdue investment in improvements for the future and a commitment to railways in the north. It is a tragedy that the electrification delay has had such disastrous effects for timetabling across the whole area. We need to sort out these problems in the short term. We need to get the electrification of his route up and running as quickly as possible so that all the improvements that were planned actually happen.
For four years, GTR has failed to run services efficiently and provide sufficient drivers. So before the Secretary of State walks the plank, will he do two things? First, will he confirm that any compensation that is going to be paid will be based on the timetable that the company should have been running, or indeed better than that? Secondly, will he consider reversing a U-turn that he performed some months ago? He had proposed handing over the services in suburban London to the Mayor of London when the Foreign Secretary was the Mayor, and then changed his mind when Sadiq Khan became the Mayor. Will he reconsider that decision?
I never took that decision in the first place. It is my view that services running outside London should not be controlled by an elected representative inside London. The approach that we have taken in the north, the west midlands and elsewhere, and have offered in London, is one of partnership so that we get involvement from both sides. That is the right way to do it. With regard to handing over services to the Mayor, London Overground is a franchise run by Arriva, the same company that runs Northern, so I am at a loss as to why people think that that is a magic solution for the future.
Do we really need a review before action is taken? People who commute from Lewes, Polegate, Seaford, Newhaven and many more stations have had to endure not just the timetable changes, but 18 months of strike action and 18 months of misery while the London Bridge works were happening, and we now have fewer trains than ever before. When trains do run, they sometimes do not stop, as happened in Lewes and Polegate today, and when they do stop, passengers cannot get on because of short formations, with trains going down from 12 carriages to four today. The only question my constituents have is, “When is Southern Rail going to lose its franchise?” If I can be helpful to the Secretary of State, the answer should be “Now.”
The important thing to do is to make sure that these problems are sorted out. It may be that at the end of this there is a franchise change, but I want to do anything like that in the right way, in the right timeframe, and in a way that is justifiable. I have to fulfil contractual commitments. I have to look at where culpability lies. We need to go through that process first. In the meantime, having short-formation trains on Southern, which otherwise is performing pretty well, is completely unacceptable, and it needs to fix that straight away.
Having heard the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) chuntering from a sedentary position, perhaps we can now hear him on his feet.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
If someone conspired to break into my garage and steal or immobilise my car, they would face the full force of the law. The Secretary of State’s Department has conspired with the railway companies in an incompetent manner to change the timetables, and despite repeated warnings from the Opposition, the companies went ahead with it. When will they face the full force of having their franchises stripped from them, or when will he be brave enough to face up to this and resign?
I have mentioned to the House the industry bodies that we have put in place. It is only a week since Labour was demanding that the railways were run by rail professionals—actually, they are. Those rail professionals have been overseeing this process, they got it wrong, and that is why we are having the inquiry.
I have to thank the Secretary of State, because he has tried to accommodate me three times today. I think we should have some brevity in the House, because parties of all colours have the same problems. The reality is that this is a mess. We have to get a realistic timetable in order and make sure that when these train companies cancel—I saw it today at Lancaster station, when Northern cancelled on the commuters that I was standing on the platform with—they have alternative transport already in place. I ask the Secretary of State to sort these companies out, but in a measured way, because I realise the pressures he is under, and I am mature enough to realise the contractual obligations that he has to consider.
This is the important thing. It is easy being the Labour party, demanding this and demanding that, but we have to do what needs to be done in the right way, focusing first on getting a stable timetable, then identifying what has gone wrong and the culpability, and then taking appropriate action. That is what we will do.
The new timetable came into effect today, but my constituents have the same old problems. Despite axing 165 services, more than 60 trains had been cancelled by 8.30 am. All the while, rail fares have risen by 32%, and the promised electrification has been scrapped. Can the Secretary of State tell me when my constituents can expect compensation and improved services and what personal responsibility he takes for the chaotic mismanagement of this country’s rail network?
The Labour party keeps saying that it wants the Government to run the railways. We do not at the moment. The temporary Northern timetable has been put in place this week. Some adjustment of rosters is taking place right now. I hope and believe that by the middle of the week, we will return to a point of stability, with a lower level of cancellations today and tomorrow and getting back to a reasonably dependable timetable within a day or two. That is what I am expecting, that is what we have been promised, and that is what we will be demanding of Northern Rail.
What a delicious choice: my former constituency chairman, the hon. Member for Horsham (Jeremy Quin), and an Arsenal fan behind him, most of whose family live in my constituency. I do not want to be unkind to Horsham, but it has got to be Huw Merriman.
Thank you, Mr Speaker—I’m always your man.
In the two years that the Secretary of State for Transport has been in post and I have sat on the Transport Committee, he has always been very honest, open and direct about the need for change. For any project management exercise to fail to get the sign-off from Network Rail and for it to find out only three weeks before, by which time it is too late to turn the oil tank around, has got to be a spectacular failure. Who was the project manager and penholder for this exercise?
That is a very interesting question. My view is that the Network Rail timetabling process has gone badly wrong, and I cannot understand why GTR did not raise the alarm. I have asked Professor Glaister to go through all this because I want to understand exactly where the accountability should lie and be able to take appropriate action.
Northern Rail has cancelled so many trains that an app has sprung up called “Northern Fail”, to help commuters in the so-called northern powerhouse make even the most basic of journeys. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that these commuters, who have forked out for childcare, taxis, hire cars and hotels, are adequately and fully compensated?
I am very clear that we have to provide a compensation scheme of the kind that was delivered to Southern passengers after the huge disruption they experienced a year ago. I am very clear that that is what will happen for them.
To reassure you, Mr Speaker, an hour’s wait is sadly not unusual for Horsham right now. I wish we were getting back to a far more regular service. Significant investment has been put into our line, which was meant to result in a far better service for our commuters. I welcome an independent inquiry to find out what on earth has gone wrong, but in the meantime, can we at least ensure that where there are fewer, busier trains, they are not short-form, so that people can get on them?
That has to be dealt with, and we will communicate that to GTR. If there are fewer trains running, there should be not short-form trains running.
The Secretary of State told the House that sorting out the timetable chaos was his Department’s No. 1 priority. That is a phrase he has used before about Dawlish and the resilience work in the far south-west, which was apparently his No. 1 priority. What is his No. 1 priority, and will Northern and GTR passengers have to wait the years that passengers in the far south-west have had to wait for action on Dawlish?
The work on Dawlish has already started, as the hon. Gentleman knows. In terms of the infrastructure period that is about to start, delivering that work is, in my view, the most important capital project in the country. The most important priority on my desk now is self-evidently to get this sorted.
My constituents are also experiencing their share of misery. The hon. Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) said that trains serving her constituency had four carriages, but most of the trains serving mine only have two carriages to begin with, so they are already overcrowded even before any cancellations. It is clearly a failure of planning and co-ordination and a lack of integration. Will the Secretary of State or his successor give an assurance to the travelling public that a similar fiasco will not occur with the next timetable changes in December?
We are working extremely hard to make sure that this does not happen again. We have to deal with the short-term problem. We also have to make sure that this is not repeated with the December timetable change or future timetable changes. Where major investment leads to a major change in services, we cannot have a situation where that causes chaos on the network again.
Does the Secretary of State understand the real human cost of this fiasco and the fact that every disrupted journey represents chaos for our constituents and losses for our businesses? He talked in his statement of major failures and holding the industry to account, but when will he take responsibility and hold himself to account over his repeated and major failures?
My job is to do everything I can to make sure that the industry gets itself back on the straight and narrow, and that is what I will do.
We have been going for an hour and fifteen minutes now, and the Secretary of State has failed to take any responsibility for the current chaos on our rail system. George Osborne wrote in The Times today about better economic advantages for the Humber area if we have faster train journeys, which I am sure the Secretary of State agrees with. However, with the new TransPennine Express timetable, the early indications are that most journeys across the Pennines are taking 15 to 20 minutes longer. Does he take any responsibility for that? How does it fit with the Government’s plan for the northern powerhouse and improving connectivity between east and west by speeding those journeys up?
What we are delivering is this: starting next spring, the £3 billion upgrade to the transpennine railway will make a huge difference to journeys; the TransPennine franchise is bringing in brand new intercity express trains in the coming months; and of course, Humberside will also benefit from the huge investment taking place in new trains on the east coast main line.
My constituents have been suffering outdated Pacer trains, overcrowding and cancellations for years, and the recent timetabling chaos and the removal of the transpennine service just exacerbated that. A promise of a better service by 2020 is just not good enough. My constituents need to get to work now, and no compensation will make up for the written warnings and even the job loss that one person has told me about. Will the Secretary of State at least consider insisting that TransPennine reinstates the stop at Wigan until he can sort out the Northern chaos?
The hon. Lady and I are meeting later, so I will happily talk through that with her.
Northern’s new emergency timetable takes 165 services out of the timetable. It has been running for the first day today. A further 40 trains have been cancelled and punctuality is running at under 50%. Those figures were correct as I came into the Chamber at 5 o’clock, so they do not include the evening peak. The one question the Secretary of State has not answered so far is this: who in the Department for Transport gave approval for this timetable change to go ahead?
Timetable changes are not approved by the Department for Transport. These are matters for the different parts of the rail industry; they are the ones who take those decisions.
The new timetable implemented by Northern Rail on 20 May has brought chaos and misery to Burnley rail users, with 22 trains cancelled on one single day and over 50% of the trains from Burnley Manchester Road station being delayed or cancelled altogether every single day. I have been listening to the Secretary of State answering questions for over an hour. Maybe I missed this, but I still do not understand why these timetable changes were permitted to go ahead when it was known that infrastructure works were incomplete and there was a shortage of train drivers. I would be grateful if he could cast some light on that. Most importantly, could he tell my constituents when they can expect the restoration of a reliable service? The interim timetable that started today has not improved things one little bit.
My understanding is that there is a need to align train crew rosters with the new timetable. That will take another 48 hours, but I am assured by Northern that the new timetable introduced this week should, as the week goes by, restore stability to that network. That is certainly—absolutely 100%—my expectation. It is essential for the hon. Lady’s constituents and that has to be delivered.
People lower down the alphabet should not suffer discrimination. I call Kate Green.
These are not recent problems. They predate the introduction of the new timetable. They predate the delay in the infrastructure improvements, and I have been talking to the Secretary of State, in this Chamber and in private meetings, for month after month about the problems my constituents are experiencing. He says that he took advice from industry experts, and of course he should, but why did he not also take advice and ask questions based on the information coming from Members of this House and on the information from the travelling public that has been all over social media for months? What questions did he ask these industry experts?
The whole point about the new timetable—it has clearly not worked and it must work—is actually to deliver a more reliable service through reshaping timetables in a way that means there is less congestion and more services can be run for passengers. This has clearly not worked at all. This timetable was put in place for the best possible reasons and it has so far delivered the worst possible outcomes. That must change.
I first contacted the Transport Secretary back in November to raise concerns about the proposed timetable and, unfortunately, he completely ignored my concerns. Today’s interim timetable has brought even more havoc to my constituents who use Greenfield station, with five—up to now—trains being cancelled. What immediate action is he going to take to resolve some of the issues not just about timetabling, but about capacity? Will he ensure that, this time, passengers are involved?
Of course, the reality is that the most important thing, as I have set out, is that Northern Rail needs to deliver this week, as it has promised, a more stable timetable and something that people can rely on. Step by step, it then needs to put back in place the additional services that were supposed to deliver better options for the hon. Lady’s constituents and others. That clearly has not happened and I deeply regret that. It is unconscionable, and infuriating to all of us in Government, that the things that were supposed to deliver a better outcome for everyone have not done so. We will not be anything other than relentless in pushing the rail industry to ensure that those benefits are delivered. They should be there now. They are not. It is worse than it should be. That has to change and it has to change quickly.