MPs warn that rail passengers face another difficult year

Rail passengers face “another difficult year” amid more timetable changes and an increase in engineering work, a Commons report warns.

MPs claimed there is still “a way to go” before public sector body Network Rail and train operating companies collaborate in a way that minimises disruption during infrastructure projects.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said passengers and taxpayers “risk continuing to pay the price” for the failure of the Department for Transport (DfT) to improve its “strategic management” of the railway.

The report described how there were “unacceptable levels of disruption” last year.

Govia Thameslink Railway and Northern failed to operate 780 trains on average each day after new timetables were introduced in May, while other services were “significantly delayed and overcrowded”.

Further significant timetable changes are planned for May, amid increased amounts of maintenance work and major improvement projects, the committee noted.

The report added that “2019 looks to be another difficult year for both passengers and the rail industry”.

Former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams is carrying out a wide-ranging Government-commissioned review of the railways.

PAC chairwoman Meg Hillier said: “2018 was a year from hell for many rail users and unless the Government gets a grip there is every chance that passengers will suffer in 2019 as well.

“The ‘root and branch’ review will report later in 2019 and must then be implemented, so passengers have some time to wait for any improvements arising from its recommendations.”

Robert Nisbet, regional director at industry body the Rail Delivery Group, insisted that train operators and Network Rail are “learning the lessons from last year’s disruption”.

He acknowledged that current work to improve the railway “will not go far” which is why the organisation is supporting the review by Mr Williams.

A DfT spokesman accepted that the disruption experienced last summer was “unacceptable” and said the lessons learned helped to deliver timetable changes in December.

He went on: “The independently-chaired root and branch review of our railway is considering all parts of the rail industry to ensure the focus is on putting passengers first.

“The Government and rail industry are committed to working together to ensure improvements are made.”

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said the PAC report is “damning of the utter incompetence of the Department for Transport and its ministers”.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union claimed the only way to improve how Britain’s railway is run is by putting the whole system under the control of “one integrated and publicly owned body”.