The Office of Rail and Road (ORR), chaired by Stephen Glaister, has published interim Inquiry report into what caused the May 2018 timetable disruption, which led to passengers enduring delays and cancellations as they could not predict how long a journey may take, or even if it was possible to travel.
The three-month Inquiry has found that Network Rail, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), Northern, the Department for Transport (DfT), and the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) all made mistakes, which contributed to the collapse of services, particularly on the GTR and Northern routes.
On 20 May this year, the rail industry attempted to introduce the biggest timetable change in a generation. The £1bn plus Great North Rail Project, which includes the North West Electrification Programme (NWEP), and the £7bn Thameslink programme should have added more services to new destinations, introduced new rolling stock, provided more seats for passengers and improved reliability.
The Inquiry found problems caused by delays to completing NWEP were worsened by Network Rail, which wrongly believed it could make up the time. It also found that the DfT’s decision to agree to phase the introduction of Thameslink stretched resources at Network Rail’s timetabling department (System Operator) and that the industry, as a whole, failed to foresee that these combined factors created a serious risk that the revised timetable could fail.
The Inquiry has determined that during the planning stages the industry placed engineering and planning concerns ahead of serving its passengers, and that was made worse by the poor information train operators provided when disruption happened.
A key issue, found by the Inquiry, is that there is an apparent gap in industry responsibility and accountability for managing systemic risks, and that needs to change.
Other key findings are:
The System Operator (SO) function within Network Rail was in the best position to understand and manage the risks, but did not take sufficient action, especially in the critical period of autumn 2017
Neither GTR nor Northern were properly aware of or prepared for the problems in delivering the timetable and they did not do enough to provide accurate information to passengers when disruption occurred
Both DfT and ORR are responsible for overseeing aspects of the industry, but neither sufficiently questioned assurances they received from the industry about the risk of disruption.
The final stage of the Inquiry will analyse what actions the industry, DfT and ORR must take to ensure that a similar breakdown of services cannot happen. Recommendations will be published in the Final Report in December.