The boss of under-fire Northern rail has told MPs the firm asked in January this year for last month's botched timetable changes to be delayed but was blocked by ‘other players’ in the industry.
David Brown, the managing director of Arriva Rail North, told the Commons Transport Committee that it became clear in early January that key electrification projects would not be delivered on time, causing the firm to rewrite its new timetable, which had been ‘on track’.
He said the ‘massively truncated’ time for drawing up the timetable was the main cause of the huge disruption that followed its introduction.
Mr Brown told MPs: ‘We did make a request that the timetable that was in place should be rolled forward. That request was declined.
‘At the end of January there was a conversation about options. It was an industry conversation with other train operating companies and with Network Rail as the system operator and a range of options was generated.
‘Our preferred option was clearly that our timetable and the national timetable was rolled forward. Clearly a number of other players did not want that to happen.’
Charles Horton, the chief executive of Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), whose resignation was announced last week, told MPs that while there was no single cause of the disruption to its Thameslink and Great Northern services, a decision by ministers to phase its new timetable had been a significant factor.
He said that while a major new timetable would normally be finalised 12 weeks before implementation, the firm only had three weeks to draw up its ‘detailed and complicated resource planning tasks’ including driver availability.
Mr Horton did not directly answer a question from committee chair Lilian Greenwood as to whether GTR had itself prolonged the process by putting in further bids for timetable changes after the decision was taken to phase the new timetable.
He suggested that this was a 'sytemic' issue to be addressed by the Office of Rail and Road's inquiry into the debacle.
He added that in October 2017, when the decision was taken, ‘no-one believed’ that it would have the consquences it had and the firm only became aware of the scale fo the problem 'in the final stages of the finalisation'.
‘The final, major problem, that caused the major disruption was when we applied the drivers’ work schedules to their work rosters and found this mismatch in skills.’
Mr Horton said the company told the Department of Transport that there was an increased risk of cancellations following the new timetable but also that it was taking action to try to mitigate this.
Members of the RMT union working for Northern are holding a 24-hour strike on Tuesday (19 June) in an ongoing dispute over the role of guards, with further one-day walkouts on Thursday and Saturday.
However the union has suspended strikes on South Western Railways and Greater Anglia following progress in talks with the companies.