Northern took ‘reasonable steps’ in timetable chaos, says regulator

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No further action is being taken against rail operator Northern over last year’s timetable change fiasco which led to months of disruption.


The new​s​ emerged as Govia Thameslink Railway ​was fined £5million by the rail regulator over its poor communication with passengers during the chaotic introduction of a new timetable.

Delays were a familiar sight

Delays were a familiar sight

By contrast the Office of Rail and Road said that Northern made good efforts to communicate with its customers during the chaotic introduction of new timetables in May last year, so it had decided to take no further action.

The ORR investigation into Northern found in many cases passengers were given “inadequate information” in the two weeks that immediately followed the timetable introduction.

But the regulator concluded that the firm “subsequently took reasonable steps” to rectify this, meaning that no further action will be taken in relation to the issue.

The ORR has written to all train companies and Network Rail to require them to review their crisis management plans and ensure appropriate arrangements exist for assisting passengers with disabilities in times of disruption.

Northern offered compensation

Northern offered compensation

Northern has once again apologised to customers and said improvements were being made.

The number of trains cancelled by Northern following the May 2018 timetable launch reached up to 310 a day.

Train companies, government-owned infrastructure company Network Rail and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling were all blamed for the chaos.

Industry body the Rail Delivery Group insists it has “learned the lessons” from the disruption ahead of another timetable change in May.

Aidan Turner-Bishop, (pictured above) of the Lancashire Campaign for Better Transport, said Northern’s communication and quality of service still needed vast improvement.

He said Northern had basically “run down the region’s railway system” last year and there were still issues with finding enough drivers, especially at weekends.

Mr Turner-Bishop said: “They say they are getting better but the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

“You still need to take a good book with you if you are using Northern because you can’t totally rely on them.”

Chorley MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle (pictured right) said: “It has taken a huge amount of time to get back to a just-about-functioning service but we’re still not there. I had expected the ORR and the Chris Grayling to set specific timelines for improvements upon which the service could be measured.

“Commuters have lost faith in Northern Rail, Industrial relations remain strained and weekend services are sporadic.

“Meanwhile Northern’s response has been to install ticket machines at unmanned stations, meaning commuters are now fined upon arrival at their destinations, rather than being able to purchase a ticket they have previously been able to do so for decades.

“Once again, hard-working and paying commuters are footing the bill for Northern Rail.”

The Office of Rail and Road said that Govia Thameslink, which provides services in the south of England, “failed to provide appropriate, accurate and timely information” amid severe disruption running from May to late July last year.

Some trains were permanently removed from the timetable but this was not made clear to passengers for several weeks, according to the ORR.

Other trains were removed or cancelled on a daily basis, leading to a “severe lack of certainty for passengers up until the point of travel”, the ORR said.

The investigation also found that inadequate internal communication within GTR often left station staff with “little or no information” to help passengers.

These failures left passengers with “very little notice or certainty” about what trains would run.

Stephanie Tobyn, a deputy director at the regulator, said: “The disruption experienced by many passengers as a result of the May timetable introduction was awful.

“When disruption happens, poor quality information makes an already difficult and frustrating situation worse.

“The exceptional circumstances that followed the introduction of the timetable meant that providing perfect advance information for passengers was from the outset an impossible task and GTR’s overriding focus was on providing as much capacity as it could to meet customer demand.

“However persistent and prolonged failures in information provision meant that passengers couldn’t benefit from the operational improvement it was trying to make.”

Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Transport Focus, said: “Passengers were badly let down when the new timetable descended into chaos on some Govia Thameslink Railway and Northern routes, and information was often poor.

“This £5million fine for Govia Thameslink should be a wake-up call to train companies that accurate passenger information really matters.

“It is important that the money from this fine is reinvested to benefit those passengers who suffered last year.”


Enough is Enough

Northern faced a barrage of criticism and calls for its parent company Arriva​ to be stripped of the franchise following last year’s disruption.
Electrification on the line between Manchester and Blackpool which over-ran, a shortage of trained drivers, a new timetable and industrial action by the RMT union at weekends led to chaos.
​Trains being cancelled or running late, and bus replacement services were commonplace throughout the summer.
It prompted the Lancashire Post and other regional newspapers to join forces and say Enough is Enough.
​We said in June: ​“​Following a period of unprecedented misery and upset for thousands of people, caused by a broken railway, the regional Press across the North of England is today making an historic united stand to demand: enough is enough.
“In a week where the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling blamed everyone bar himself for the chaos and confusion that has hit train operator Northern, The Post is putting years of rivalry with our publishing peers to one side for the good of our proud regions.​
​“We say to Prime Minister Theresa May: if, as he did last week, your Minister refuses to acknowledge his failings and refuses to accept responsibility for the interminable disruption for which he – whether he likes it or not – is ultimately responsible, then you must.
“The Post and our colleagues across the industry today, on behalf of the 15m people who are proud to call the North home, table a vote of no confidence in the Transport Secretary.
Our unprecedented show of unity is in direct response to the disruption suffered by hundreds of thousands of passengers since new timetables were introduced on the Northern network a fortnight ago.
With passengers bracing themselves for weeks of further delays as a result of these cack-handed changes, Mrs May, you, will be jeopardising the credibility of the Northern Powerhouse, and alienating the regions for good, if you do not intervene now.”
Speaking in June, Mr Grayling laid the blame squarely at the door of the rail franchises. He said the rail industry believed “until the last moment” that it could successfully introduce the new timetables.

Compensation

In July, Northern announced full details of its additional compensation scheme for customers who experienced delays and cancellations.
The scheme, which was over and above the existing Delay Repay offer was developed between the Department for Transport and Transport for the North.
It provided compensation to Northern customers on certain specified routes where more than five percent of trains have been cancelled or seriously delayed.
David Brown, Managing Director at Northern said at the time: “During the past few months many of our customers have not had the quality of service they expect. We are really sorry for this and it is only right that those season ticket customers should be compensated for the disruption they faced.
Northern set two compensation levels, recognising that some customers faced disruption to their journeys prior to the introduction of new timetables on 20 May.

Northern’s response

The ORR has confirmed that its investigation found Northern took reasonably practicable steps to provide appropriate, accurate and timely information and therefore was not in breach of its passenger information obligations.
A spokesman for Northern said: “We welcome the ORR’s findings on Northern and are reviewing the detail of the investigation report.
“Last year was very difficult for our customers for well-known reasons, particularly the ongoing impact of delays to infrastructure upgrades. This meant we did not meet people’s expectations and we are sorry for that.
“Following the experience of 2018 Northern has made improvements, and we continue to invest in better customer information systems and processes. We are determined to deliver a better service for our customers in 2019 with improved punctuality, the delivery of new and refurbished trains, and better stations.”

Network rail ‘must take blame’

The North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce and the Preston Business Improvement District wrote to the Government last year demanding urgent action to resolve the train chaos which was affecting towns and cities across Lancashire.
Both commuters and daytrippers were badly affected by the ongoing cancellations and delays.
Chamber policy manager Alan Welsh said today: “There were clearly things that Northern could have done better to avoid some of the train delays and cancellations faced by passengers last year, especially around the shortage of trained drivers and a running dispute with the RMT.
“However, most of the problems were beyond their control and Network Rail must take most of the blame for overrunning maintenance and not phasing in the new timetable.
“It is important that Northern heed the warning issued by the ORR but we believe that passengers will soon start to see the benefits of the significant investment made by Northern to improve services and introduce new rolling stock.”