Daily Mail

This is no way to run our rail­ways

Af­ter timetable chaos and fare hike, MPs’ blunt ver­dict:

- By James Salmon Trans­port Edi­tor UK News · United Kingdom · Chris Grayling · Network Rail Route 18 · London · England · Arbeidersparty · United Kingdom Department for Transport · Department for Transport · East Sussex · Cambridgeshire · Birmingham (England) · St Louis · Brazil · South Western · FirstGroup · Hong Kong · East Coast · Virgin Atlantic · Manchester · Manchester International Airport · Jeremy Corbyn · Lilian Greenwood · Andy McDonald · Northern Rail · Uckfield · Victoria · Southern Railway · British Rail · MTR Corporation · London North Eastern Railway (train operating company) · North Eastern Railway · YouGov

A DAMN­ING re­port on the sum­mer timetable sham­bles has laid bare the dys­func­tional chaos of Bri­tain’s rail­ways.

De­ci­sion-mak­ing was ‘ not fit for pur­pose’ and there was a ‘col­lec­tive, sys­tem-wide fail­ure’, said MPs.

There was an ‘ ex­tra­or­di­nary com­pla­cency’ among gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, rail bosses and reg­u­la­tors about ‘pro­tect­ing the in­ter­ests of pas­sen­gers’, they added.

Trans­port com­mit­tee chair­man Lil­ian Green­wood said the news last week of an av­er­age 3.1 per cent rise in fares added ‘in­sult to pas­sen­gers’ in­jury’.

Chris Grayling was also in the firing line over the de­lays and can­cel­la­tions to thou­sands of ser­vices na­tion­wide as the in­dus­try buck­led un­der the biggest change to sched­ules in­tro­duced in May.

The MPs said the Trans­port Sec­re­tary was ul­ti­mately re­spon­si­ble for the rail­ways and should stop duck­ing the blame.

He should ‘have been more proac­tive’, they added. But as prob­lems mounted, he had in­sisted: ‘I don’t run the rail­ways.’ Mr Grayling had blamed rail bosses, par­tic­u­larly at in­fra­struc­ture firm Net­work Rail, for claim­ing they were ready for the changes.

The com­mit­tee con­cluded the Trans­port Sec­re­tary ‘is re­spon­si­ble for the struc­ture of the sys­tem. Some of the prob­lems arose from the struc­ture of the rail­ways. It is there­fore not rea­son­able for the Sec­re­tary of State to ab­solve him­self of all re­spon­si­bil­ity’.

The cross-party com­mit­tee also blamed the ‘ frag­mented’ na­ture of the in­dus­try for the dis­rup­tion. In Bri­tain’s ‘ as­ton­ish­ing’ com­plex sys­tem, pri­vate com­pa­nies com­pete on rail in­fra­struc­ture which is owned and run by the state, it said.

The MPs high­lighted ‘ in­ad­e­quate’ gov­er­nance and de­ci­sion­mak­ing over­seen by Mr Grayling and his depart­ment. ‘Lines of ac­count­abil­ity failed, were not suf­fi­ciently clear or sim­ply did not ex­ist,’ they said.

Mrs Green­wood added: ‘It is ex­tra­or­di­nary and to­tally un­ac­cept­able no-one took charge of the sit­u­a­tion and acted to avert the May timetablin­g cri­sis.

‘Around one in five pas­sen­gers ex­pe­ri­enced in­tensely in­con­ven- Or­deal: Pas­sen­gers on a crowded plat­form in Lon­don try­ing to get to work on time ient and costly dis­rup­tion to their daily lives.

‘ There was ex­tra­or­di­nary com­pla­cency about pro­tect­ing the in­ter­ests of pas­sen­gers, who were very badly let down.’

The 46,300 timetable changes af­fect­ing al­most half of ser­vices were meant to lead to more trains and re­li­able travel.

But the over­haul un­rav­elled as op­er­a­tors did not have enough time to make sure trains were in the right place and to train up driv­ers for new routes.

Over- run­ning engineerin­g work by Net­work Rail was the key rea­son the timetable was im­ple­mented late in the North of Eng­land, said the re­port. But de­lays in cru­cial de­ci­sions on how to phase in changes on Thames­link by Net­work Rail and Mr Grayling were to blame in the South, it added.

The com­mit­tee said sta­tis­tics ‘can­not do jus­tice to the se­vere ef­fect on peo­ple’s lives’ as they had to pay for taxis and ex­tra child­care. Pas­sen­gers also suf­fered anx­i­ety about get­ting to and from work while pupils were late for school.

Labour, which wants the rail­ways to be re­na­tion­alised, backed the re­port. Shadow trans­port sec­re­tary Andy McDon­ald said: ‘Chris Grayling could have done more and should take greater re­spon­si­bil­ity.’ He also blamed the com­plex sys­tem for mak­ing it ‘so easy for se­nior fig­ures to pass the buck’.

A Depart­ment for Trans­port spokesman said an in­dus­try re­view will ‘put pas­sen­gers first, with re­forms from 2020’.

Robert Nis­bet, for the Rail De­liv­ery Group, said a team has been set up to en­sure timetable changes are smooth, in­clud­ing those due next week­end.

CoM­MUTERS can be for­given for re­act­ing with loud groans to prom­ises of new timeta­bles with hun­dreds of ex­tra rail ser­vices from next Mon­day. They re­mem­ber all too well what hap­pened last time they were changed, six months ago.

The re­sult was chaos on Thames­link and North­ern Rail — and thou­sands of pas­sen­gers in­can­des­cent as hun­dreds of trains were can­celled ev­ery day for weeks af­ter the rail com­pa­nies re­alised they didn’t have enough driv­ers for the ex­tra trains.

Things are not look­ing too good for next week, ei­ther. A damn­ing in­terim re­port into the last fi­asco by the of­fice of Rail and Road con­cludes that sim­i­lar dis­rup­tion could hap­pen again.


If it isn’t timetable changes caus­ing havoc, it’s engineerin­g work. Two weeks ago, thou­sands of com­muters found them­selves stranded in the Home Coun­ties on a Mon­day morn­ing, un­able to get to work in Lon­don as week­end engineerin­g work on lines into Water­loo sta­tion over­ran.

Then there is over­crowd­ing. In Au­gust it was re­vealed that on Bri­tain’s most over­crowded com­muter ser­vice, from Uck­field in East Sus­sex to Vic­to­ria, 267 pas­sen­gers typ­i­cally try to squeeze into a twocoach train de­signed to carry 107 peo­ple. Why couldn’t they find an ex­tra set of car­riages?

Mean­while, an­gry com­muters learnt last week that they must pay an av­er­age of 3.1 per cent ex­tra for their sea­son tick­ets from Jan­uary — and that’s reg­u­lated fares. As for the 55 per cent of fares that are un­reg­u­lated, in­clud­ing fully flex­i­ble ‘any­time’ fares, train com­pa­nies are free to ex­ploit their mo­nop­o­lies to jack up prices to what­ever level they like.

Re­cently, I had to take an early morn­ing train from Ely in Cam­bridgeshir­e to Birm­ing­ham and was quoted a fare of £138.40 re­turn. I looked up what I’d paid for the same trip in 2000, a few years af­ter pri­vati­sa­tion. It was £24.70.

It is an end­less cy­cle of mis­ery: ris­ing fares, fewer re­li­able trains and a strug­gle to find a seat. While the rail com­pa­nies make fat prof­its, or­di­nary peo­ple try­ing to get to work are ripped off.

Dur­ing the strike on South­ern Rail­way, some had to give up their jobs as they were un­able to get to work on time. It is an out­ra­geous way to run a pub­lic ser­vice.

I am no friend of the na­tion­alised in­dus­tries of the Seven­ties and have no rosy mem­o­ries of Bri­tish Rail, for which I briefly worked as a trainee en­gi­neer in the 1980s. The trains I trav­elled on back then were slow and dirty, even if I do re­mem­ber them be­ing a lit­tle more re­li­able than to­day’s ser­vices.

Another thing peo­ple tend to for­get is how BR re­acted to over­crowded trains. Rather than laying on ex­tra car­riages, it used to miss out stops and use other ways to dis­cour­age pas­sen­gers from trav­el­ling.

In any case, re­na­tion­al­is­ing the rail­ways would be hor­rif­i­cally ex­pen­sive. While the fran­chises could sim­ply be al­lowed to ex­pire, the tax­payer would have to buy the rolling stock, which would mean stump­ing up £9.3 bil­lion — and that’s just for new trains or­dered to be de­liv­ered by 2020.

But why can’t the Gov­ern­ment re­form the dread­ful fran­chis­ing sys­tem to make sure long-suf­fer­ing pas­sen­gers have a proper choice and fares are sen­si­bly reg­u­lated?

In July, it was an­nounced that the fran­chise for South West­ern Trains, which op­er­ates ser­vices out of Lon­don Water­loo, is to be rene­go­ti­ated, just 11 months af­ter it was awarded to a con­sor­tium of First Group and the Hong Kong metro op­er­a­tor, MTR.

on that oc­ca­sion, Trans­port Sec­re­tary Chris Grayling promised a ‘revo­lu­tion’, with ex­tra trains and more seats. But the timetable changes promised for this month have been can­celled in­def­i­nitely.

Then there is the no­to­ri­ous East Coast Main Line. Three times in the past dozen years, the rail com­pany op­er­at­ing the line has run into fi­nan­cial prob­lems and had its fran­chise with­drawn. This year, Vir­gin and Stage­coach were re­placed by Lon­don North Eastern Rail­way, a state-owned op­er­a­tor, af­ter fail­ing to pay the £3 bil­lion pre­mium they had promised to the Gov­ern­ment.

Still the trans­port sec­re­tary in­sists the fran­chise must be put out to ten­der again. Surely, he knows what will hap­pen. Along will come another pri­vate op­er­a­tor that over­bids, over­es­ti­mates the num­ber of pas­sen­gers who will use its trains, then col­lapses in a heap or begs to be bailed out.

When rail pri­vati­sa­tion be­gan in 1995, I was all in favour. In­stead of be­ing forced to travel on trains run by a monopoly, pas­sen­gers would have a choice of op­er­a­tors and com­pe­ti­tion would re­duce the cost of rail fares — or so I thought. I as­sumed the strikes would stop and tax­pay­ers would no longer be forced to sub­sidise the rail­ways.


None of these things has been achieved. Most of the lim­ited com­pe­ti­tion cre­ated at the time of pri­vati­sa­tion has been lost as fran­chises have been amal­ga­mated and in­di­vid­ual train com­pa­nies have been given the ex­clu­sive right to op­er­ate across par­al­lel lines, when they should be made to go buf­fer-to-buf­fer with ri­vals.

Why on earth was Vir­gin awarded the fran­chise to run in­ter­city trains up the East coast when it was al­ready run­ning trains on the West coast?

It ap­pears that rail com­pa­nies have, pre­dictably enough, ex­ploited their mo­nop­o­lies ruth­lessly. Fares have risen by a quar­ter in real terms since pri­vati­sa­tion. Since 1995, an open day re­turn from Lon­don to Manch­ester has more than tre­bled to £338.

In no other in­dus­try would such prac­tices be tol­er­ated. Yet rail com­pa­nies seem to be free to raise fares as much as they like. If we can’t have com­pe­ti­tion on ev­ery line, then or­di­nary turn-up-and-go fares should be set by the Gov­ern­ment.

As for the rail unions, they are as bol­shie as ever. The only dif­fer­ence is that pri­va­tised rail com­pa­nies seem keener to cave in to their de­mands.


Last year, South­ern Rail driv­ers only called off their strike once their an­nual pay was boosted to £75,000. Rail com­pa­nies have sim­ply rolled over in the face of union de­mands, then re­lied on the Gov­ern­ment to bail them out.

Re­mark­ably, sub­si­dies paid to the rail in­dus­try have more than dou­bled in real terms since pri­vati­sa­tion, grow­ing from £ 900 mil­lion in 1995 (£1.7 bil­lion in to­day’s money) to £4.2 bil­lion in 2016-17.

Worst of all, the Gov­ern­ment’s fail­ure to deal prop­erly with the rail­ways is play­ing into Jeremy Cor­byn’s hands. His aim of re­na­tion­al­is­ing the rail­ways is pop­u­lar even with Tory vot­ers — ac­cord­ing to YouGov they are split 52 to 39 per cent in favour.

Surely, min­is­ters can see that Lon­don’s com­muter­land is full of mar­ginal seats that voted for Mar­garet Thatcher, then Tony Blair, and have switched ten­ta­tively back to the Tories.

Places such as Har­low, Wat­ford and Craw­ley are home to as­pi­ra­tional vot­ers who want to work hard and reap the re­wards for that. But they must be able to get to work.

Yet, in­stead of ad­dress­ing the prob­lems with com­muter ser­vices, the Gov­ern­ment is ob­sessed with the lu­di­crously ex­pen­sive van­ity project that is HS2. While it boasts of build­ing the fastest rail­way in Europe, it ne­glects those com­muters who lost their jobs be­cause they couldn’t get to work.

The Tories need to start look­ing af­ter com­muters — or risk los­ing their votes, and with them their grip on Down­ing Street. And that re­ally would be a one-way ticket to dis­as­ter.

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The Mail, Novem­ber 30 AN IN­SULT TO EV­ERY RAIL USER
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