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Railways: Timetables

Volume 792: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in the inquiry by the Office of Rail and Road, led by Stephen Glaister, into the implementation of the new railway timetables on 20 May.

My Lords, the Office of Rail and Road inquiry began its work on 13 June and is proceeding at pace. The inquiry is in its evidence-gathering phase, collecting evidence from passenger representative groups, industry and the Government about the preparations for the timetabling change, the key decisions that were made, and the impact on passengers. Initial findings will be published in September, with final reports at the end of the year.

I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. The introduction of the new timetables in May was the result of very many years’ work. The rolling stock had to be ordered 12 years ago, and the timetables had to be approved by the Office of Rail Regulation in the course of that action. Can I be assured that Professor Glaister will inquire thoroughly into what part the Office of Rail Regulation played in the delays, and what part was played by the department in the delay in ordering rolling stock in this case? Will the noble Baroness also explain whether any of the four assessors who have been appointed have any experience of running a mixed-traffic railway?

My Lords, I can certainly give the noble Lord the assurance that the inquiry will cover the role of both the department and the ORR itself. The inquiry’s terms of reference include both examination of the department’s approach and the role of the ORR as the independent regulator of Network Rail. The Department for Transport is of course fully co-operating with the inquiry, and we look forward to receiving its results. The panel indeed has members with experience of the rail industry. Michael Beswick had a full career in British Rail, and Mike Brown is the commissioner of Transport for London.

My Lords, while an inquiry is enormously welcome, will my noble friend recognise a practical issue on the Govia Thameslink Peterborough line, which I try to use? Even at the new, third attempt yesterday, the prime-time service was cancelled as early workers tried to get into the City of London. Surely the time has come for Her Majesty’s Government to find someone to liaise closely with Govia management, to make sure that it at least gets things moving properly on its next attempt. I very much hope it will be fired from the contract in any case.

My Lords, there have been far too many cancellations at Peterborough and across the country, creating long gaps between services. We have been clear with GTR that the interim timetable, which began on Sunday, must provide passengers on the line with the service they deserve and reduce gaps in services to acceptable levels. For Peterborough specifically, there will be half-hourly trains off-peak and up to four trains per hour during peak hours. New services will also be added as soon as possible.

Noble Lords should be aware that my diocese extends across most of south London and east Surrey. Since the availability of employment and the affordability of housing are at an increasing distance from each other for a great and growing proportion of the population, people need a rail system of adequate capacity, affordable to their means, which is utterly reliable and efficient in its running. Does the Minister accept that the current arrangements do not deliver these criteria? Is there a proper sense of urgency about addressing this matter?

My Lords, I certainly agree that passengers expect an adequate, affordable service with capacity, and we are working towards that. A record £47.9 billion is being invested in our railways over the next control period, which should bring improvements to connectivity across the country.

My Lords, here is a bit of a googly but the Minister will be well up for it. Given that the rationale for the substantial worsening of running times from Sheffield to St Pancras and intermediate stations was the large increase in train availability for London and the south-east, will she ask the inquiry now to restore the running times from Sheffield to London so that we can have a service back?

My Lords, I am not sure I recognise that as the reason for the issues in Sheffield. We are investing in the biggest upgrade of the line since it was completed in 1870. We are working closely with Network Rail on the upgrade and we expect to deliver it in 2020, which will improve train times. We are working continually with the train operating company to ensure that the new timetable implementation is delivered successfully.

My Lords, 200 services were cancelled by Thameslink and Great Northern yesterday, so the first day of the third version of the timetable was predictably bad, with all the same delays, cancellations and misinformation. It is time to give passengers a stronger voice. Will the Minister agree that all boards must have a passenger representative, and will the Government hold these powerful companies to account, forcing them to pay proper compensation to all passengers, not just those with season tickets?

My Lords, sadly we have seen some interruption in the interim timetables delivered on Sunday. However, we are seeing daily improvements and it is worth remembering that, even with the interim timetables, there are 100 more services per day than before. There will be 400 more services per day once we get back up to our planned level. I assure the noble Baroness that we will absolutely hold the train operating companies to account. As well as the independent inquiry, we are looking at a hard review into each of the franchises to ensure that they have behaved appropriately. If they have not, we will certainly take action.

My Lords, will the Minister accept that the 10% reduction in timetabling expenditure demanded by Professor Glaister would itself have an impact on the chaos that we are seeing? Is she aware that the view in the railway industry is that this inquiry is designed to cover up the mistakes of Ministers, with blame then of course allocated to the train operating company rather than to the Secretary of State? On that point, fresh from the chaos that was the Ministry of Justice, Mr Grayling now presides over a wrecking ball to the national timetable. Does the Minister think he is incompetent or just unlucky?

My Lords, I am afraid that I have not seen that 10% timetabling figure but I will certainly go back to the department to follow that up. I assure the noble Lord that this inquiry is absolutely not a cover-up. As I said, the expert panel will have particular regard to whether the ORR’s role as regulator has been properly assessed by the inquiry. The inquiry will look very carefully at the role of the Department for Transport in planning the enhancements and at the approach to planning general network changes.

My Lords, would it not be a good idea if those who ran our railways were to reconsider the excellent example of the original Bradshaw’s guide to the railways for a timetable?

My Lords, I must admit that I have not read that guide but I look forward to reading it over the Summer Recess.

My Lords, I have asked this question before but it was not answered. Because the French own it, have the Government had any discussions with the French Government about the appalling service in the Southern region?

My Lords, we work carefully with all the train operating companies. I do not believe that we have discussed that detail with the French Government, but if that is not the case I will certainly write to the noble Lord.