Following the recent failures in implementing the new May timetable I was in immediate contact with the Department of Transport. I have raised concerns on the floor of the Commons, I met the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling and this morning met Charles Horton, Chief Executive of GTR. I will continue to make the strongest representations on this matter until we have the reliable train service passengers pay for.
Resolving the Current Problems
Following the failure of the new timetable's introduction the immediate aim has been to revert to a timetable under which advertised services run reliably and consistently from day-to day. Commuters need to know what trains will be running rather than there being an advertised service subject to random cancellations and delays. Restricting the service to a more limited number of trains as per the old timetable is the last thing I wanted to see but is the only way to ensure that the service can regain reliability: passengers need to have confidence that the trains will run as advertised and this has to be the priority.
This breathing space will allow GTR time to train drivers on the new routes they are operating, without which the new services simply cannot be delivered.
This process will take weeks but having done so they anticipate a steady increase in the number of train routes being provided until the new timetable, in its entirety, is reintroduced. I wish I could give a greater degree of confidence on timings and exactly what will be resumed when, at this stage I cannot. I do however think it is imperative that new services are only reintroduced as and when they can definitely be reliably maintained.
Aside from the problems which are general across the area (but vary greatly in their intensity between stations) I have had some specific issues drawn to my attention:
There have been numerous examples of "station skipping" at Littlehaven. This causes huge inconvenience to passengers and, adding to the frustration, produces only very limited operational benefit to the Operator given that the trains are already running slow on their approach to, or departure from, Horsham. I took this up with the Chief Executive of GTR, Charles Horton, this morning he sees no reason why this should continue and has promised to look into it immediately. I have asked for a response in writing.
The emergency timetable has a major and lengthy vacuum in the evening peak. This is particularly frustrating given our successful efforts to improve the station's peak morning service on the new timetable. Having explained the precise timing of trains to Balcombe in the evening Mr Horton and his team recognise the point. They have assured me that there is an ongoing process of going through the emergency timetable to address gaps in service. Balcombe appears to have an obvious and major gap. They have agreed to revert to me in writing, swiftly, as to how and when this will be addressed.
Other issues raised by constituents have also been flagged and if there are further specific concerns for me to raise with GTR please email and I will do so.
What went Wrong
I reluctantly anticipated some problems would transpire in what is the largest ever timetable change-over but nothing can excuse the scale of problems that was manifest on introduction and which no one anticipated: the industry experts responsible for the implementation of the new timetable were issuing assurances only weeks and days before it came in that all would be well.
I understand that Network Rail was very late in signing off and finalising the timetable changes (and concluding engineering works which contributed to the issues) but even so, after this, the operators believed they had sufficient trained drivers to take on the services being advertised. They didn't.
I have welcomed a full independent investigation into what went wrong which will look at Network Rail, the Operators and the Department for Transport itself. We need to know exactly who was to blame and what contributed to the failure so that effective action can be taken. Running the railways especially in the most congested railway network in Europe is complex which is why they are run by professional industry experts but there has been obvious and significant failure. The Government has powers that it can invoke in these circumstances and I am determined it should follow through the conclusions of the independent report and take appropriate and action.
Additional compensation should without doubt be paid where this is appropriate.
The Future and the New Timetable
I am very frustrated that what was meant to be the successful culmination of very significant investment: a better and more reliable service, has instead resulted in huge grief for passengers.
There are real benefits that should flow from the investment. Some of these are apparent from the new timetable such as more through trains and in some cases increased and faster services. However on our lines I was frankly more excited about the prospect of greater reliability and resilience as I was assured that the new investment, new rolling stock, rebuilding London Bridge, more through trains and the new timetable would all make the network easier to run and problems easier to isolate.
I believe all of this is still deliverable and I do not wish to see these management failures result in a reduction in the Government's commitment to continue to provide investment on de-bottlenecking and improving our service. For too long our network was deprived of investment and problems were allowed to escalate.
We need the ongoing investment but we these must be planned and run properly. For example I welcome the fact that the engineering works in Balcombe Tunnel which are absolutely necessary to reduce the problems faced on the London-Brighton line are being advertised already for specific times this autumn and February 2019 but these must be competently and effectively managed to ensure that the service resumes as promised and is not delayed by Network Rail.
I will continue to focus on this with the Department, Network Rail and the Operators and will keep constituents informed.
Meanwhile on the new timetable itself I have received both supportive and critical emails from constituents. Where problems were flagged in the consultation and even after the consultation was concluded (in the case of Balcombe) I raised issues, with success, with GTR.
There is no timetable change that will please every passenger. However I received an assurance from the Rail Minister last month on the floor of the Commons that the new timetable was not set in stone and following its introduction could be improved. I think it is important that the service is returned to reliability first but I am then very keen to look again at usage and see how the services can be upgraded to meet passenger requirements