Bim Afolami: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what assessment his Department has made of the reasons for the driver shortages on train services to Hitchin in the first week of the new Govia Thameslink timetable.
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, if he will make an assessment of the efficacy of the Govia Thameslink franchise in relation to the changes to the timetable on the rail network.
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the introduction of the new Govia Thameslink timetable.
Jo Johnson: The unacceptable level of service since the start of the new timetable is not due to Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) not having enough drivers. The significant delay in Network Rail agreeing the timetable has directly impacted on GTR’s ability to re-work train crew schedules and deliver driver training on new routes and on new trains and this has impacted on the delivery of the new timetable. To make space on the network for hundreds of extra services, the timing of all services had to be changed and all of these new journeys needed to be individually approved by Network Rail to ensure the national rail network runs safely and smoothly. Unfortunately, as a result of the sheer number of changes required, the process took longer than anticipated, approvals for service changes were delayed and some timetable requests were changed. This meant the operator had much less time to prepare than it needed – leading to a shortage of drivers trained on the right routes.
We are assessing whether GTR met their contractual obligations in the planning and delivery of this timetable change, and whether these issues could have been reasonably foreseen and different action taken to prevent the high levels of disruption passengers are experiencing. The assessment will cover whether GTR had sufficient resources and skills to deliver the new timetable, if drivers could have been trained in a faster and more effective way, and examine the contingency and risk management arrangements in place. If it is found that GTR are materially in breach of their contractual obligations, we will take the appropriate enforcement action against them.
Passengers on GTR are facing totally unsatisfactory levels of service and it is the Department’s number one priority to restore reliability to an acceptable level as soon as possible. We are in regular discussions with Network Rail and GTR and have reiterated this to them. The rail industry has collectively failed to deliver for passengers and has rightly issued a joint apology.
When this new timetable is fully introduced it will deliver hundreds more services up and down the country as part of the biggest modernisation of the railway since Victorian times, following the huge growth we have seen in passenger numbers.