Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was humiliated in the Commons yesterday
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was humiliated in the Commons yesterday after the introduction of an emergency timetable triggered yet more chaos on the railways.
In a desperate effort to limit last-minute cancellations and provide a more reliable service yesterday, almost 400 trains were axed on Northern, Thameslink and Great Northern services.
But passengers across England were let down yet again as more than 200 additional trains were cancelled at short notice or severely delayed by mid-afternoon.
The industry said 590 scheduled services either failed to turn up, or did not turn up on time – leaving passengers stranded on platforms.
This meant that just under 1,000 trains were delayed or cancelled before the evening rush hour had even begun.
Mr Grayling was accused of being ‘asleep at the wheel’ and urged to resign by his opposite number, Labour’s Andy McDonald.
But he also came under pressure from Tory MPs, spearheaded by former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, who said ‘there is real anger in the villages’ as some of his constituents in Sevenoaks, Kent, had been ‘virtually cut off’.
Fellow Tory Sir Nicholas Soames described the introduction of a new timetable two weeks ago across the industry as an ‘absolute disaster’ and that ‘people’s private lives are being destroyed’.
Following intense pressure to address the shambles in the House of Commons, Mr Grayling delivered a statement to MPs late yesterday.
In an attempt to get on the front foot, he threatened to strip operators of their franchises and even ban them from the industry if they are found to have breached their contracts over the introduction of the new timetable.
Mr Grayling said much of the disruption had been caused by delayed engineering works by Network Rail, which left rail operators with less time to prepare for the changes.
Commuters at Bolton train station trying to board a packed Northern Rail train
But he also pointed the finger at the operators and said they had assured him just before the new timetable was introduced on May 20 that they would be ready.
Mr Grayling announced that an inquiry, by transport professor Stephen Glaister, will look at the implementation of the new timetable – which will now be introduced in phases.
He said he would also hold operators to account should a review find negligence, but suggested that any judgment would involve ‘bearing in mind Network Rail’s failure to deliver infrastructure on time’.
He added: ‘I will not hold back from taking appropriate action if the review finds that there’s been negligent behaviour.’
Mr Grayling also announced a ‘special compensation scheme’ would be set up for season ticket holders on Northern, and funded by the rail industry.
Andy Burnham, Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, said Northern was ‘in the last-chance saloon’ and should be stripped of its franchise if its service did not improve.
But perhaps the most damaging intervention came from one of Mr Grayling’s former Cabinet colleagues, Sir Michael, who said the ministers needed to ‘get a grip’ and the dire service on Thameslink was becoming a ‘scandal’.
Speaking to the BBC, he described the ‘raw anger’ of his constituents.
He said: ‘Commuter patience is running very, very thin. There is real anger in the villages. My constituents can’t get to work in London.
‘Their children can’t get on trains to school. And we are now into more cancellations even with the emergency timetable.’
On a bruising day for the Transport Secretary, he also came under fire from MPs in the North for cancelling meetings to discuss their constituents’ misery.
The Department of Transport said it was not able to accommodate ‘the very large number of colleagues asking for a meeting with Chris Grayling or (rail minister) Jo Johnson’.
Robert Nisbet, of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents rail operators and Network Rail, said: ‘As customers return from their half-term holidays the network is busier than it has been over the last fortnight since the new timetable was introduced, nevertheless today is seeing some improvement in the punctuality and reliability of services.’