Rail timetable changes: May 2018 Contents


Far from marking the intended substantial improvement for rail passengers across the north and in London and the south of England, the 20 May national rail timetable change and the weeks that followed will live long in the memories of a large proportion of rail users as a prolonged period of intensely inconvenient, costly and, on occasions, potentially dangerous disruption.

Rail passengers caught up in the timetabling crisis do not deserve to face an increase in their fares in 2019. We urge the rail industry and Government to consider all options to keep any regulated fares increase in 2019 to a minimum. Northern, TransPennine Express, Thameslink, and Great Northern’s 2018 season ticket holders should receive a discount, equivalent to any increase announced this year, on renewed season tickets in 2019.

The May 2018 timetabling crisis was in part a consequence of the astonishing complexity of a disaggregated railway in which the interrelated private train companies operating on publicly-owned and managed infrastructure have competing commercial interests. While there can be little doubt that “root and branch” reform of governance structures is necessary, passengers cannot wait for the Government to implement the recommendations of the Williams Rail Review from 2020. Key lessons from the experience of passengers must be learned and addressed now or in short order. The rail industry, Department for Transport and the ORR must:

Even though all the main stakeholders had been aware for several years that the scale of change planned for 20 May was unprecedented, the industry did not adhere to its long-established system for timetable changes, which clearly sets out well-understood processes and timescales. The reasons for this were different in the north and south but the ultimate effects were the same. There was simply not enough time to put everything in place to ensure a reasonably smooth implementation. People who rely on our railways have been very badly let down by the whole system, including Network Rail, the train operating companies, the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Office of Rail and Road (ORR). We endorse the ORR’s finding that “nobody took charge”; this is extraordinary and totally unacceptable.

In relation to industry structures, the immediate priority must be establishing effective oversight of the next national rail timetable changes. In the short term, we are content for the Chief Executive of Network Rail to take charge, but the Secretary of State must make clear the extent of Mr Haines’ decision-making power over whether and when the next timetable change goes ahead.

We await the ORR’s final recommendations, but our clear view is that the national rail timetabling process requires genuinely independent oversight, following accepted principles of professional project management, including the appointment of an independent Project Sponsor or Senior Responsible Owner for the whole national timetabling project. We believe this role would need to be located outside of Network Rail, so that it is more effectively insulated from commercial and political pressures.

Published: 4 December 2018