Chris Grayling to blame for rail chaos, says Lord Adonis

Former Labour transport minister says his successor should have blocked train timetable changes – ‘I did when I was in charge’

Pressure is growing on transport secretary Chris Grayling to take responsibility for the rail chaos that has disrupted the lives of thousands of commuters over the past three weeks. Politicians including MPs and former Labour transport minister Lord Adonis, as well as rail bosses and trade unions, are urging action.

Around 15,000 trains have been cancelled or have run severely late since Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and Northern Rail brought in new timetables in May. Passengers have reported missing work, or regularly being late, and last week GTR resorted to laying on taxis for children taking GCSE exams.

Adonis said that when he was in charge of the UK’s transport network, he had blocked similarly sweeping timetable changes. “He [Grayling] obviously shouldn’t have permitted a wholesale timetable change across the country. The industry always wants to make big changes to the timetable – they did when I was transport secretary and I stopped them.”

Chris Grayling, transport secretary.
Chris Grayling, transport secretary. Photograph: Alan Davidson/Rex/Shutterstock

Grayling said last week that he had acted on advice from the Thameslink readiness committee – which includes Network Rail and train company representatives – as well as “personal assurances” from GTR bosses.

But Adonis said: “He started blaming the train companies and then his own department for things for which he was ultimately responsible, and he’s now hiding behind the readiness committee. The whole point is that your job is to make a judgment. You don’t bring in system-wide changes until you’ve examined them locally – especially given there were such evident problems before.”

The Observer understands that GTR executives may also dispute Grayling’s contention in the Commons last week that the company had assured him “it would be fine” once the timetable change was introduced.

Even if inquiries do confirm Grayling’s version of events, pressure on the transport secretary from all parties is intense: more than 50 MPs whose constituents were affected have sought meetings with ministers this week.

Lord Adonis, former transport secretary.
Lord Adonis, former transport secretary. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Lib Dem Tom Brake, who signed a cross-party letter from 20 MPs demanding action, said: “Given this is a mess of Chris Grayling’s own making, questions must be asked about whether he can clean it up. I wouldn’t be surprised if he soon finds his ministerial car returned permanently to the carpool.”

Passengers are still waiting to hear news of a fresh compensation deal, which GTR said was awaiting approval by the Department for Transport, while the terms of an independent inquiry are likely to rule out public hearings.

Rail companies have tried to stem the crisis by withdrawing around 6% of services, reducing short-notice cancellations significantly on Northern. GTR will launch a medium-term timetable in July. Northern’s troubles could also be eased after it agreed a deal with Aslef, the drivers’ union, to allow rest-day working, enabling training to progress more rapidly and with less disruption.

But an admission that Northern will not restore trains to the Lake District for at least four weeks has angered many in Cumbria, with tourism businesses gearing up for high season. Thousands more services will be taken out of action later this month in three days of strikes called by guards in the Rail, Maritime and Transport union.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said his members would try to meet Grayling at a regional transport summit in Manchester later this month. “We are calling out Chris Grayling, who has presided over the rail chaos,” he said. “We will be taking frontline rail workers to meet with him at this northern event.”


Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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