ORR failed to do its job sufficiently, admits Glaister
Office of Rail and Road Chairman Professor Stephen Glaister admitted to the Transport Select Committee’s inquiry into timetable changes that the regulator should have been “readier” to enforce licence conditions on Network Rail, ahead of the May timetable change.
He admitted that the regulator was “complacent” about not pointing out that important changes to the May 2018 timetable were made after the deadline of November 2017, although it did begin to intervene in January when it spotted that NR would be unable to meet its licence obligation to provide timetables to passengers and train operators 12 weeks before trains run.
“What we did not spot, and nor did anybody else, was that that was a signal that things were very much behind schedule, and that it would cause the compression of the timetable planning process and create unsurmountable risks to the delivery of the timetable,” said Glaister.
“As it turned out, the industry - in those two areas - was overwhelmed, and we have the outcome that we are familiar with. The major conclusion of our inquiry was that it was the failure to stick to an agreed timetable that ultimately led to the chaos on May 20.”
Asked by TSC Chairman Lilian Greenwood whether the regulator had failed to do its job sufficiently, he said: “Yes, I agree that we should have looked to ways of being sharper on enforcing those licence conditions, and in future we will. That is part of the recommendations we will be looking for, both for ourselves and in our advice to the Secretary of State about what should be done.
“I am not saying that one can never miss a deadline, but if one is going to miss a deadline, one has to do it in a very considered and controlled way, with good reasons and good mitigation.”
ORR Director of Strategy and Policy Dan Brown said that had the Thameslink Industry Readiness Board (IRB) been in place much earlier, timetable disruption in May might have been avoided.
“I feel that the IRB should have been embedded in the Thameslink programme much earlier than it was,” he said.
“The advice to pursue phasing did not come until after the creation of the IRB, until after that forum existed and the industry was able to meet to consider and provide that advice to the DfT. Had something like the IRB been in place much earlier, the phasing decision could have been made in time to be reflected much earlier in the May 20 timetable.”
On whether an earlier decision to create the IRB would have made a material difference to the outcome of the timetable change, Brown replied: “Yes, it clearly would have made a material difference to the outcome, because the May timetable could have been planned from the very start at a frequency of 18 trains an hour and the problems could have been ironed out.
“We might still have been sitting here talking about disruptions to the Northern network, which happened for different reasons, but the problems in Govia Thameslink Railway could have been substantially avoided.”