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‘Another difficult year’: Rail passengers offered bleak outlook for 2019 | UK News



Rail passengers have been warned they face “another difficult year” of timetable changes and engineering work in a damning report into the state of train services across Britain.

Last year saw train punctuality fall to a 13-year low amid widespread disruption to routes and stations, and the transport secretary Chris Grayling faced calls to quit after admitting that services were “no longer delivering”.

The rollout of a number of new major timetables proved disastrous, and the chaos caused was exacerbated by frequent signalling failures, several strikes and bouts of extreme weather.

Railways ‘no longer delivering for passengers’

But those hoping that things could not possibly get any worse look set to be disappointed based on the latest assessment by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which says passengers “risk continuing to pay the price” for the failure of the Department for Transport (DfT) to improve its “strategic management” of the railway.

The Commons report says the “unacceptable levels of disruption” from last year look set to continue, with yet more significant timetable changes and maintenance work planned.

Mr Grayling's department said it 'shared the frustrations of passengers'
The DfT has said it ‘shares the frustrations of passengers’

Robert Nisbet, regional director at the Rail Delivery Group, disputed the bleak tone of the findings – insisting that trian operators and Network Rail are “learning the lessons” from the problems seen in 2018.

But he acknowledged that more needed to be done and reiterated his support for a government-commissioned review into the railway, which is being headed up by former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams.

He has said that rail franchising “cannot continue” in its current form, telling an audience of industry leaders that the way train companies were contracted to run services was “no longer delivering clear benefits”.

Jeremy Corbyn has branded rail fare increases 'a disgrace'
Jeremy Corbyn wants to nationalise the railways

Speaking at the George Bradshaw Address in London on Tuesday night, he added that the rail industry has “lost sight of its customers”, blaming poor communication, declining performance and confusing ticketing.

His comments will lend a boost to those who argue that the railways should be nationalised, which Labour has said it will do should it get into power.

The policy appears to be popular with the public, with a Sky Data poll carried out in the wake of a controversial fare hike last year showing that 60% of Britons supported the idea.

As it stands, most rail services are operated by fixed-term franchises, which involve the DfT setting out a specification covering areas such as service levels, upgrades and performance.

Virgin Trains
Virgin services were singled out for criticism in a report last year

Train companies then submit bids to run the franchise and the DfT selects one of the applicants, and its management of some of its chosen franchises has been described as “completely inadequate”.

In a report last April, the PAC singled out the Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and Virgin Trains East Coast networks for criticism, saying GTR services was marred by an “appalling level of delays and cancellations”.

And it said the DfT had “failed to learn the lessons from previous failings” on the East Coast route.

The rail review chaired by Mr Williams will conclude in the autumn, along with a white paper setting out its findings and how the government plans to implement reform.

A DfT spokesman said: “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.”

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