With the rail industry and its customers facing ‘another difficult year’, passengers with disabilities continue to be let down by government and the industry, MPs have said.
A new report from the Public Accounts Committee paints a picture of confusion, mismanagement and a lack of transparency in the Department for Transport’s (DfT) supervision of the industry.
It states ‘unless the Department considerably improves its strategic management of the railway and transport more generally, passengers and taxpayers risk continuing to pay the price for the Department’s failures’.
GTR operates Southern services to and from London Victoria
The committee said the DfT’s management of the Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) franchise in particular and the railway in general ‘continues to be characterised by cost overruns, project delays and disruption’.
Following unacceptable levels of disruption in 2018, the committee said 2019 ‘looks to be another difficult year for both passengers and the rail industry, with further significant timetable changes planned, increased amounts of maintenance work and large improvement projects rolling out’.
In particular, ‘passengers with disabilities continue to be let down by the Department and the rail industry,’ MPs said, adding: ‘It is not good enough that the Department does not know if passengers with disabilities are getting the support they need.’
Committee chair Meg Hillier said: ‘2018 was a year from hell for many rail users and unless the Government gets a grip there is every chance that passengers will suffer in 2019 as well. The root and branch review will report later in 2019 and must then be implemented, so passengers have some time to wait for any improvements arising from its recommendations.
‘The Department for Transport must set out clear governance and accountability structures for the rail system, and move swiftly to provide other important information.
‘For example, poor performance on the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise has been well-documented. Yet still we don’t know what level of profit the operator, GTR, can expect to earn – nor what tangible benefits passengers can expect to see from the £15m GTR must spend on improvements.’
She added: ‘We also expect the Department to explain how it will improve its monitoring of train and station operators to ensure the railway is made more accessible for all.’
A DfT spokesperson said: 'We are working to improve access to our rail network and the Inclusive Transport Strategy sets out the actions we are taking to achieve a genuinely inclusive transport network, which meets the needs of all people, regardless of whether they are disabled or not.
'This includes improving assistance and information for passengers and providing a further £300m to extend the Access for All programme until at least 2024 to deliver step-free, accessible routes at stations.'