My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made today in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport. The Statement is as follows:
“I would like to update the House on the recent timetable changes, in particular on some GTR and Northern routes. Let me be absolutely clear: passengers on these franchises are facing totally unsatisfactory levels of service, and it is the department’s number one priority to make sure the industry restores reliability for passengers to an acceptable level as soon as possible. I want to assure the passengers affected that I share their frustration about what has happened and that I am sorry that it has taken place.
This timetable change was intended to deliver the benefits to passengers of major investment in the rail network. This means new trains, including all trains on the Northern and TransPennine Express networks, either new or refurbished; Great North Rail Project infrastructure upgrades worth well over £1 billion, such as in the Ordsall Chord and at Liverpool Lime Street; and, through the £7 billion Thameslink programme, new trains and improved stations, including London Bridge and Blackfriars.
The huge growth in passenger numbers that we have seen in recent years demanded expanded routes and services and extra seats, but this timetable change has instead resulted in unacceptable disruption for passengers who rely on these services. The most important thing right now is to get back to a position of stability for 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 quite different on the Northern and GTR networks. The investigations being carried out right now are giving more information about what has gone wrong, but it is also worth being clear that the industry remained of the view until the last moment that it would be able to deliver these changes. That is the bit that everyone will find hard to understand and why there will have 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 the Department for Transport, 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 being finalised. This meant that train operators did not have enough time to plan train crew schedules or complete crew training, affecting a whole range of other complex issues that impact the running of what is an already congested service.
It is also clear to me that both Northern and GTR were not sufficiently prepared to manage a timetable change of this scale, either. GTR did not have enough drivers with the route knowledge required to operate the new timetable, and neither Northern nor GTR had a clear fallback plan. In GTR’s case, the process of introducing the new timetable was overseen by an industry readiness board made up of Network Rail, ORR and the train operating companies, and an independent assurance panel. Both these groups have told me that they had been given no information to suggest that the new timetable should not be implemented as planned, albeit with some likely early issues as the timetable bedded down. These bodies were set up specifically to ensure that all parts of the rail network—Network Rail, GTR and other train operators—were ready to implement these major timetable changes. It should have been clear to them that some key parties were not ready, but they did not raise this risk.
The department received advice from the Thameslink industry readiness board that while there were challenges delivering the May 2018 timetable—namely, the logistics of moving fleet and staff—the three-week transition would allow minimal disruption. My officials were assured that other mitigations in place were sufficient and reasonable. Indeed, as recently as three weeks before the timetable was to be implemented, GTR itself assured me that it was ready to implement the changes. Clearly, this was wrong, and it is wholly 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. Right now, though, the focus should be on restoring the reliability of its service to passengers. This morning I met the chief executives of Network Rail, GTR and Northern, the latest in a series of meetings that my department and I have been holding with these organisations, and the Rail Minister has visited Network Rail’s rail control centre in its Milton Keynes headquarters. We have made it clear to them all that current services are still not good enough. I also demanded that Network Rail and the train operator work more collaboratively across the industry to resolve the situation, where possible 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 the Rail North Partnership, which oversees the Northern franchise, to hold the industry to account in improving services.
Mr Speaker, I would like to be able to tell the House that there was an easy solution or that the department could simply step in and make the problems that passengers are facing go away. Ultimately, the solution needs to be delivered by the rail industry. These problems can be fixed only by Network Rail and train operators methodically working through the timetable and replanning train paths and driver resourcing to deliver a more reliable service. It is for reasons like this that I am committed to unifying the operations of track and train where appropriate to ensure that we do not encounter problems like this in future.
Northern has agreed an action plan with the Rail North Partnership. It has focused on improving driver rostering to get more trains running as quickly as possible, rapidly increasing driver training on new routes, additional contingency drivers and management presence at key locations in Manchester, and putting extra peak services on the timetable along the Bolton corridor. Work on this action plan is under way. It has also published temporary timetables that will be more deliverable and give passengers much more confidence in the reliability of their service. This will mean removing certain services from the new timetable while ensuring that there is still an improvement in the total number of services being run by Northern, compared to before the timetable change. Alternative arrangements will be made for passengers negatively impacted by the changes. I believe this temporary measure is necessary to stabilise the service, enabling improvements to be introduced gradually.
Today, there are more services running on GTR on a day-to-day basis than before the timetable change, and Southern and Gatwick Express services are performing well for passengers. However, GTR is not currently able to deliver all planned services on Thameslink and Great Northern routes. In order to give passengers more confidence, GTR is removing services from its timetable in advance, rather than on the day, and reducing weekend services to pre-May levels. This will be in place until a full replanning of driver resourcing can take place.
I would like to be clear: 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 in order to ensure that it can be delivered properly. Once the full service is operating on GTR, 24 Thameslink trains will run through central London every hour and 80 more stations will have direct services to London stations such as Farringdon, City Thameslink and Blackfriars by next year. There will be 115 new trains and 1,140 new carriages providing faster, more frequent and more reliable journeys for thousands of passengers.
On Northern, the Great North Rail Project, an investment of well over £1 billion in the region’s rail network, will, by 2020, enable faster and more comfortable journeys, as well as new direct services across the north and beyond. By 2020, it will see the train operators, Northern and TransPennine Express, deliver room for 40,000 extra passengers and more than 2,000 extra services a week.
However, I completely understand that passengers are angry at the levels of disruption that this timetable change has caused in recent weeks. That is why I am announcing that a special compensation scheme for passengers on affected routes on both GTR and Northern—subject to agreement with the board of Transport for the North—will be introduced and funded by industry, to ensure that regular rail customers receive appropriate redress for the disruption they have experienced. The industry will set out more detail on the eligibility requirements and how season ticket holders can claim. However, I believe that the scheme should offer passengers—particularly in the North, where disruption has been protracted—similar entitlements to last year’s Southern passenger compensation scheme.
It is also 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. Today, I am also announcing that work has started to set up an inquiry by the independent Office of Rail and Road, chaired by Stephen Glaister, into the May timetable implementation. The inquiry will consider why the system as a whole failed to produce and implement an effective timetable.
The findings will be shared at as early a stage as possible with me and the rail industry so that lessons can be learned in advance of future major timetable changes. The final report will be published by ORR by the end of the year. In parallel to the inquiry, my department will assess whether GTR and Northern met their contractual obligations in the planning and delivery of this timetable change. The department will be assessing whether these 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, if drivers could have been trained in a faster and more effective way, and examine the contingency and risk-management arrangements in place. If it is found that GTR is materially in breach of its contractual obligations, I will take the appropriate enforcement action against it. This includes using the full force of the franchise agreement and my powers under the Railways Act, and I will include how such a failure impacts on its 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 hold back from taking appropriate action if the review finds that there has been negligent behaviour.
Finally, as I know that colleagues across the House are receiving correspondence from constituents impacted by the timetable changes, I have arranged for both Northern and GTR to meet colleagues across the House this week to discuss any specific issues that they wish to raise with the operators.
I am incredibly frustrated that what should have been an improvement in services for passengers has turned into significant disruption. I am sorry for the level of disruption that passengers are experiencing. There have clearly been major failures that have led to the situation we are in today. I am clear that the industry must and will be held to account for that, but my immediate priority is to ensure that the industry improves train services to an acceptable level as quickly as possible”.
My Lords, I commend the Statement to the House.
My Lords, the national railway is a public service for two reasons. First, most passengers have no choice and, secondly, a vast amount of its expenses are paid for by the taxpayer. One has to ask: who is responsible for this public service? It is very clear: it is just one person, the Secretary of State. He owns Network Rail, he hires and fires the directors, he determines their pay, he can give them directions, he decides what funding they get. He commissions the train operating companies and the various, appropriately complex, conditions on their contracts. He is personally responsible for the mess.
My colleague in the House of Commons said that the Secretary of State should resign. I would not be nearly so presumptuous, but an apology would be a step in the right direction. There is not a word of apology in the Statement. I share his sorrow, and I wish that he would take personal responsibility for the sorrow that he has caused. He failed fully to understand the operation; he did not assure himself that he had sufficient skilled resources to understand the risk. Furthermore, he carries on trying to make the present structure work. The present franchise system does not work. You need much more skill than the Secretary of State has so far displayed to get a profit-maximising organisation with virtually no real competition to maximise the concept of public service. His favoured solution for getting the railway right is a partnership, as he set out in his east coast Statement, but Northern was managed by a partnership and it failed; GTR had a partnership and it failed. Why did it fail? It failed because a publicly owned Network Rail and a profit-maximising train operator do not make natural partners.
The Secretary of State fails to understand the basic financial pressures on the train operating companies. They go on about increases in passenger numbers, but this is much more dependent on external forces such as the economy than anything that the train operating company can do. Revenue is largely outside their control; the road to shareholder value is by cutting costs.
Finally, the Secretary of State’s plan to get us out of this mess, a programme of incremental introduction, is likely to go as wrong as the current mess. I have run a railway in the public sector. It is a complex system, and any change to any part has an effect on the whole system. Change needs to be modelled and tested by high-quality research staff, which takes time and effort and long lead times to recruit and train staff, particularly drivers. Does the Secretary of State have access to such staff? If he has, are they recommending incremental introduction?
To summarise, does the Secretary of State accept personal responsibility for this mess? Will he apologise, and has he got sufficient skilled resources to manage the situation? Is he still convinced that a partnership really can work? Given the continuous failure of the present franchise structure, does he not agree that the train operating companies should be taken into public ownership?
My Lords, like the noble Lord I am horrified by the tone of this Statement. The passengers, who bear the brunt of all this, have absolutely had enough, and the lack of any shadow of an apology in that Statement from the Secretary of State is going to anger them even further. The Secretary of State lurches from catastrophe to chaos, and I believe that he thinks that he is Teflon man.
I differ from the noble Lord in that I do not believe that nationalisation is the answer. Indeed, when you look at the ability of the Department for Transport to manage things effectively, one shudders to think of what it would do if it was in charge of the whole lot. I do not subscribe to the kneejerk approach to politics that heaps all blame on Ministers; I realise that government is difficult and that Ministers cannot be expected to micromanage. But I have been a Minister in two Governments and I recognise the point where a Minister has to take direct responsibility when something goes wrong. The Secretary of State has reached that point, and he needs to take that responsibility for his part in this debacle. You cannot claim the credit for something if you are not prepared to shoulder the blame when things go wrong. The latter part of this Statement trumpets the wonderful things that are still going to happen in future; the Secretary of State has trumpeted all this in the past and therefore takes responsibility for it.
Why were basic precautions not taken to ensure that a big change like this ran smoothly? It is the coward’s way to blame the staff and managers involved. Transport Focus warned of potential problems with the new timetables last autumn. Why were its warnings not heeded? What meetings took place with Transport Focus, and between it and the train operating companies, to deal with the concerns which it voiced? For how long has this change been planned? Was there any element of speeding it up to get it done by a particular time, which might have been a factor in why it went wrong? Has Network Rail, or the train operating companies involved, ever raised any concerns about either the scale of change or the timescale for it? The Statement says that there were meetings recently and no concerns were raised then. Were they raising concerns some months back? Why were these changes introduced on such a grand scale, involving several train lines? Would a pilot project not have been a good idea? Given the delays to the Bolton electrification project, why go ahead at all with changes on Northern at this time?
The Statement refers to compensation, but it is not precise. Can we please have exact details about compensation to long-suffering passengers? Finally, the Statement referred to the ORR undertaking an inquiry. Will this be entirely independent? Will it analyse the roles and responsibility of Government, as well as of Network Rail and the train operating companies, so that Government can learn the lessons from this and ensure that it never happens again?
My Lords, first I reiterate what was said in the Statement: passengers on these franchises are facing totally unacceptable disruption and we apologise for that. It is our top priority to make sure that the industry restores reliability to acceptable levels as soon as possible, and the department is working around the clock to deliver that. The doubling of passenger numbers that we have seen means that we have needed these expanded routes, extra services and extra seats. That is what the timetable change was supposed to deliver but, instead, it has led to a totally unsatisfactory level of services for passengers who rely on them. We are working closely with Network Rail, Northern and GTR to keep passengers moving and ensure that disruption is minimised. Work has already begun to set up an independently chaired inquiry into the May timetable implementation and deliverability of future timetable changes. This will be fully independent and look at all the issues. In parallel to that, the Department for Transport is looking separately at GTR and Northern.
The first priority is to improve services for passengers as quickly as possible. That is what the Secretary of State, the Rail Minister and officials are prioritising. Although this is not about blame at this stage, it is important to recognise what happened. The industry timetable developed by Network Rail for both GTR’s Thameslink and Great Northern routes was very late to be finalised. On Northern, which is managed jointly by the Department for Transport and Transport for the North, Network Rail did not deliver the key infrastructure changes and upgrades in time, leading plans to be changed at a very late stage. It is also now clear that GTR and Northern were not sufficiently prepared to manage a timetable change of this scale either. The Secretary of State has, indeed, apologised and did so in his Statement. His number one priority is working to resolve this issue.
Privatisation has succeeded in doubling passenger journeys since 1995 and has delivered one of the most improved and safest major railways in Europe. However, of course the system is not perfect, and the changes we announced in the rail strategy last year will ensure that we get the best of both the public and private sector worlds. The new model will keep the benefits of privatisation while, rightly, maintaining vital infrastructure in public hands.
On notice around these issues, the department was aware that agreement on the timetable was running late, and this was industry-wide knowledge. At the beginning of May, GTR informed the department that the delays to the industry timetable process meant that the final timetable would require additional driver diagrams, and therefore more drivers than was expected. GTR put forward a proposal on 10 May, which the department accepted, to amend some late-night, low-patronage services to free up additional drivers, which resulted in 17 services being removed from the timetable until there were enough drivers. However, despite the late timetable, the department was assured that implementation of the new timetable on 20 May could still take place. It was not until two days before the timetable change that GTR informed the department that, following the conclusion of the rostering process, it had identified a significant shortfall in the number of drivers with the required route knowledge. By that point, I am afraid that it was just too late not to progress with the timetable change.
The new timetable had to be implemented as a whole because it was an integral part of the UK-wide rail plan, dovetailing with other train operators’ timetables, as well as future engineering schedules. Across the country, outside the GTR and Northern areas, the timetable is working well.
The special compensation scheme will offer a month’s compensation for Northern season ticket holders who use the services most affected by the disruption. The compensation by the industry will be confirmed shortly for Thameslink and Great Northern season ticket holders. These schemes will reflect the fact that Northern services have been affected since the end of March, and Thameslink and Great Northern services since 20 May. The exact details are being worked out, and the industry will set out more detail of the eligibility requirements and how the season ticket holders can claim.
I reiterate the Secretary of State’s apology for this and reassure noble Lords that, as I said, the number one priority is to resolve this issue.
My Lords, it is one thing to talk about disrupted or affected services. However, as I understand from the radio this morning, in the Lake District there is no service at all. This is absolutely intolerable. Is what has been reported true and, if it is, should what the Minister said about compensation not also be extended to people other than passengers who have been affected by there being no service in the Lake District? There is no good reason why operators of hotels, boarding houses and cafes should not be compensated too. Does the Minister agree that we are seeing such an example of the dead hand of incompetence as we have not seen since British Rail?
I am coming to the Lake District. Northern will then get back to the full-service timetable, but the interim timetable will see it reduce the number of train services it runs each day by 6%. For the Lakes Line in particular, the noble Lord is correct; for an initial period of two weeks, Northern is removing all services on the Lakes Line to and from Preston, Lancaster and Oxenholme, and it will instead operate a replacement bus service. At the moment the compensation package is designed purely for rail passengers, but I will certainly feed back my noble friend’s point about hoteliers.
My Lords, does the Minister believe that it was right for Northern to announce at 5 pm on Friday that it was suspending every single train running on the Lakes Line—in an area with world heritage status—causing great difficulties for students doing their A-levels and GCSEs? Northern made the announcement with just two days’ notice. Will the Minister confirm that the suspension will last for only two weeks, contrary to the claim of bus companies that they have an eight-week contract with Northern to provide cover for services? Is that correct?
My Lords, passengers must feel many frustrations around these services and obviously notice of cancellations is incredibly important. They need to understand what services there will be and to know that they will be reliable and function. Both operators are trying to give as much information as possible about these services as early as possible, and they have introduced the new temporary timetable of reduced services so that people are aware of what will happen. As I said, the services on the Lakes Line will be replaced by a bus service for two weeks initially, and I am afraid that that is as much information as I have at the moment.
My Lords, I have run two successful railways and have also managed the all-systems timetable. Before we denigrate what British Rail did, we should remember that when I managed operations on the London Midland Region 91% of the express trains arrived on time, not 10 minutes late as happens now. Therefore, it is rather bad to talk down what British Rail did.
Railways are run by two groups of people—operators and engineers. There are lots of lawyers and accountants but they do not run the trains. Politicians and generalists in the department do not run the railways either, and I wonder what effect the constant interference in the running of the railway by the Secretary of State and his officials is having. Constantly calling in the people who should be running the railway to answer fatuous questions is likely to damage the whole system. The whole architecture of managing the railways under the Railways Act 1993 needs to be overhauled with the aim of letting railway professionals manage a functioning railway, and there needs to be a heavy dose of realism. I have two small points to make. First, the chair of the ORR is not a railwayman, so what skills is he bringing? Secondly, raising concerns with Ministers often leads to people being bullied by those Ministers and not being honest about the developing situation.
My Lords, on the constant interference of politicians in the railway system, it is absolutely the department’s responsibility to ensure that the railway is run well. When it is not run well, as in this case, then of course politicians will get involved. I entirely agree that the railways should be run by professionals. With the long-term franchises which the franchising system has brought in, there are five-year or seven-year periods in which to run the railways, and of course Network Rail is run separately. We think the head of the ORR is the right person to carry out the independent inquiry, and I am sure he will consult experts. He will be working very closely with the franchises, the department and Network Rail to try to understand exactly what went wrong.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a commuter on Great Northern and Thameslink. I am afraid I have to inform my noble friend that the service has not improved one iota. Is she aware that none of the people who commute from that area—from Sandy, Biggleswade, Hitchin, Stevenage and so on—is the least bit interested in 2020? What they want is action now. May I make a suggestion? I handled the three-day week publicity in conjunction with the departments involved. Every night, there was communication with industry and commerce and so on. I suggest that there should be a daily meeting involving a senior Minister so that we can get a grip on what the situation needs.
My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend for the disruption to services he has faced on the Northern route. I absolutely reassure him that the Secretary of State and the Rail Minister have more than daily meetings on this. I agree it is important that we communicate to passengers as quickly as possible the new timetable and the incremental upgrades that are coming.
My Lords, is not the most extraordinary aspect of this Statement that the priority of the Secretary of State appears to be to argue that everybody else was at fault and that absolutely no responsibility or blame attaches to him? Does the noble Baroness agree that that attitude is not only unedifying but completely non-credible? The Secretary of State was clearly incompetent if he did not know what was going on—he was not asking the right questions. He knew, as the noble Baroness has just said, that the new timetable arrangements were running into considerable delays. As she said, that was a matter of public knowledge. He was equally incompetent if he did know that things were going wrong and did absolutely nothing about it until the car crash.
My Lords, as I said, we were aware that there were issues with the infrastructure upgrades and the new timetable but we received reassurance and were not aware that there would be disruption of this level. As I said, on other rail lines the new timetable has been delivered, but GTR and Northern have suffered unacceptable delays and disruption. I repeat that the Secretary of State has apologised, and I do not think it is right to apportion blame today. The priority is to make sure that passengers get a better service as soon as possible. We are also running the inquiry so that we can fully understand exactly what went wrong, learn from those lessons and make sure we do not have the same situation in the future.
My Lords, as a resident of Manchester, I am fully aware of the chaos that has ensued from the so-called timetabling changes in the last couple of weeks. But there has been cancellation after cancellation on routes throughout Manchester, into the north-west and across to the north-east for months. Time and again, the excuse given has been a lack of drivers and other staff available on those lines. When this inquiry is undertaken, will it look not only at the consequences of the timetabling and the link to the lack of drivers but at the lack of recruitment and investment in the service over the last 12 months, which has led to the current chaos?
My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right to point out that many of these issues have been caused by not having enough trained drivers to run the routes. Manchester, the north-west and the north-east have been particularly affected because of the recently completed infrastructure upgrades such as the Ordsall Chord, at Liverpool Lime Street and the tracks between Manchester and Liverpool and Manchester, Preston and Blackpool. There is an issue around rest-day working for drivers on Northern, which has exacerbated the situation and means that it has been unable to train the drivers as quickly as it had hoped. However, I assure the noble Lord that driver training will be closely looked at by the review.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the problems with driver training is that small companies such as Northern trains and the TransPennine Express train the drivers and then the larger companies—such as the one that will now be called “London whatever”—poach them? A particular problem has emerged this week because not all the trains are now stopping at Northallerton and many passengers are being abandoned at York on their return journey from London because of the shortage of drivers. Will my noble friend agree to look into that to see how passengers can safely reach their ultimate destination?
My Lords, I will certainly look into the point that my noble friend raises. She is quite right to point out that, because of these changes and the reduced timetable that has been brought in, trains are not stopping at every station. It is important that we deal with the train operating companies and do all that we can to communicate with them. However, I will certainly look at the provision available to transport passengers if they are not able to get off at the stop that they wish to.
My noble friend raised an interesting point about driver training. The necessary driver training was not completed in time and my noble friend is quite right to point out that sometimes train drivers move to other franchises. We are hoping to benefit from that in this situation. We are working across all train operating companies to see whether we can use other drivers on these lines to deliver better services. But the point about the transfer of drivers to different franchises is certainly something that I can take back.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that in Cumbria there has been appalling chaos with cancellations, and what we have seen is a complete failure of co-ordination on the part of the disparate interests involved in running the modern railway? Does she not accept at least in principle that the answer to a failure of co-ordination is stronger public control? If she accepts that principle in the north—she may not want to see a renationalisation of the railways and the creation of British Rail—at least will the department consider giving real powers and money to the newly set up Transport for the North, a public body, to give it a much stronger role in co-ordinating services in the region? If she is not prepared to do that, what meaning does the northern powerhouse now have?
My Lords, this Government have devolved more power to Transport for the North to manage railway systems. As I said, it co-manages the franchise with the Department for Transport. John Cridland, the head of Transport for the North, is satisfied with the powers that he currently has. I acknowledge that this has been a problem of co-ordination with many different train operating companies and Network Rail. That is something that we need to improve. But we think that the solution is evolving the way that we run the railway to rely on the track and train operators across the network with closer joint working between the train operating companies and Network Rail in different parts of the country. That is being supported by Network Rail’s own devolution into a series of regional businesses. As I said, the rail strategy, which we set out last year, aims to move more towards that alignment of track and train, which we think will help.
My Lords, the exact details of the compensation scheme are still being worked out. It will be industry led. We have confirmed that it is for season ticket holders, as those are the people who have paid for their services already. But the exact details have not been worked out. I do not have the percentage details of how many people own season tickets. I will endeavour to find out and write to the noble Lord.
My Lords, the train operating companies are providing the bus replacement systems. I very much hope that they will be sufficient for those passengers who wish to travel. It is something that we are keeping a close eye on. The performance of those buses will form part of our regular updates from train operating companies.
My Lords, I am another resident of Cumbria. Does the Minister accept that it is not simply this crisis with which the public has been confronted, but the appalling record of industrial relations in Northern? Pain upon pain has been ladled out to the long-suffering traveller. Can she give an assurance that any comprehensive inquiry that takes place will look at the issue of industrial relations within its remit? Perhaps I may also ask the noble Baroness whether the Government are honestly taking full account of the outstanding success of the east coast line under public ownership. Why on earth can it not be recognised that there are areas of public service in the United Kingdom where what we need is an overriding culture throughout the organisation of service to the public, not simply profit-making?
My Lords, I agree entirely that the railways need to provide a service for the public and not be focused purely on profit-making. On the east coast line, a subject raised by the noble Lord, under public ownership the line contributed less to the taxpayer than it does currently. It is still a successful railway, with 92% customer satisfaction. Recently we set out a way forward through an operator of last resort ahead of the East Coast Partnership, and we think that that will be a success.
On industrial relations, I mentioned earlier the issue around working on rest days which has been a problem as regards training new drivers, which is part of the problem. The inquiry will look at what went wrong, why this has happened and what lessons we need to learn for the future. It will not look directly at industrial relations, but if it turns out that they were one of the causes, the inquiry will highlight that.
My Lords, my train was cancelled and the next one was delayed, which is why I have arrived here so late. I understand that part of the problem is drivers being assigned to sections of track, such as Peterborough to the London terminals. Apparently, it takes two and a half weeks to train up a driver. However, the drivers who can drive that section and then through to Horsham are busy driving the trains and therefore not available to train new drivers who could alleviate the problem. Are we looking at a month or two months with 75% of trains being cancelled in order to clear this training backlog?
The noble Earl is right to point out the problem. The new drivers need to be instructed by trained drivers, and that is why we have had to implement a reduced level of service, in particular at weekends, so that new drivers can be trained. I am afraid that it will not be a short-term solution, and I am not able today to confirm when we will get back up to the initial May timetables. As I have said, as and when drivers are trained, it will be incrementally added to in order to reach the service level that we were expecting on 20 May.