'Systemic failures' led to commuter chaos after May's timetable changes, says regulator

Joe Curtis
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The Journey Of A Southern Rail Commuter
Commuters face higher fares in 2019 despite a year of delays, strikes and cancelled trains (Source: Getty)

Train companies must put passengers at the heart of decision-making to prevent a repeat of May’s timetable chaos, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said today.

The ORR published a raft of recommendations to improve rail services for passengers in phase two of its review into major rail disruption earlier this year, saying "systemic failures" must be avoided to prevent a recurrence.

It comes just a week after the Rail Delivery Group revealed that fares would increase by 3.1 per cent in January.

“Passengers were let down by the rail industry on 20 May and the weeks that followed,” said Stephen Glaister, who leads the ORR and chaired the review.

“We found systemic failures that needed to be resolved in order to reduce the possibility that passengers have to endure these conditions again. Our recommendations will now mean that in every project, impact on passengers will be a central consideration – as it should always be.”

The ORR ordered Network Rail to improve its timetabling process after the change in May led to weeks of cancellations and delays.

Network Rail must publish a plan by 1 April 2019 to show how it will overhaul how slots for new train services are added to the timetable in order to minimise commuter disruption.

The body also recommended that industry boards have more scope to oversee major network changes, in order to better scrutinise new timetables, infrastructure, new rolling stock and franchises.

Independent system-wide advice and auditing should be introduced “as soon as possible” for major changes to the UK rail network, in order to identify problems before they hit passengers.

Rail companies must also seek to learn best practice from other sectors in delivering major projects on time and within budget, after the delay of the opening of the Elizabeth Line, also known as Crossrail.

Running from Reading in the west to Abbey Wood in the east, Crossrail was meant to open this month, but is delayed until autumn 2019, and is now running £600m over budget.

The ORR’s phase one review into the timetable chaos, published in September, suggested that the Department for Transport (DfT), Network Rail and the ORR itself all missed opportunities to prevent the weeks of delays and cancellations.

Glaister’s phase two review also outlined improvements the ORR itself can make, including monitoring Network Rail system operators’ performance in delivering strategic plans between 2019 and 2024.

The body should also continue to perform enhanced monitoring of the risk to future timetables.

The ORR said it would contribute to the Williams Review, which is looking at making “more fundamental changes” in the longer term to improve the UK’s travel system.