Chris Grayling regrets lack of ‘revolution’ on railways

Chris Grayling has admitted he has not been bold enough in his attempts to improve the rail network.

He told MPs he was wary about imposing “too much change” when he became Transport Secretary in July 2016, but has since realised “it’s revolution that’s needed”.

The Tory MP for Epsom and Ewell said Keith Williams, who is leading the Government-commissioned Rail Review, has been given a “clear mandate to deliver revolution”.

Asked by the Commons’ Transport Select Committee where he thinks he has “got it wrong” in his three years as Transport Secretary, Mr Grayling replied: “My regret is looking for evolution in the railways rather than revolution.

“If I could turn the clock back I would start with revolution on day one, not evolution.

“It’s become abundantly clear since that it’s revolution that’s needed.”

Mr Grayling described the May 2018 timetable fiasco as his “biggest challenge by far”.

He insisted the chaos seen in parts of south-east and northern England was “very much against all the assurances given by the industry”.

Mr Grayling added that the performance of Govia Thameslink Railway – one of the firms whose services were disrupted – is “now very good” on some routes, but warned there is “still work to do” in relation to Northern.

“The challenge around Northern is that fundamentally the infrastructure in the North isn’t really up to handling the needs of a modern commuter railway, and that’s what it needs to be,” Mr Grayling said.

He insisted there are “things we’ve done” such as upgrading lines from Manchester to Liverpool and Blackpool, but admitted: “Sadly you can’t wave a wand and deliver those things overnight.”

Pressed on whether he would consider stripping Northern of its operating franchise, Mr Grayling told the committee: “I will not resile from taking away a franchise if it’s the right thing to do and if I’ve got the contractual basis for doing so.”

Mr Grayling has received fierce criticism on a number of issues during his time as Transport Secretary.

These include:

– Bringing train services on the East Coast Main Line back under public control following the failure of the franchise operated by Stagecoach and Virgin Trains.

– Awarding a no-deal Brexit ferry contract to a company with no ships.

– The long-running industrial dispute over the role of guards on Southern trains.

Asked by the committee to give himself a mark out of 10 for his performance, Mr Grayling responded: “I will leave it to others to judge.”