PAC demands government tighten control over rail industry  

28 Feb 19

Taxpayers face more rail “hell” unless the government improves its governance of the rail sector, a group of MPs has warned.

With further changes planned for the rail industry “2019 looks to be another difficult year”, according to a damning Public Accounts Committee report out today.

The report pointed to timetable changes in May 2018 which lead to two rail companies failing to run an average of 780 trains every day at the peak of the disruption.

“Unless the department [for transport] 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,” the PAC report said.

Govia Thameslink Railway, which holds Britain’s largest rail franchise, was made to pay £15m to the DfT to spend on passenger improvements after the timetable chaos last year.

But the PAC report said: “The department is still to decide how the £15m will be spent and it is not clear whether the investment will result in tangible improvements for passengers.

“We are concerned that the department is still not adequately protecting taxpayers; money in its management of GTR and that there is a lack of transparency about the profit rate that the company will be able to earn from its franchise.”

After the timetable failings GTR had its profits capped by the DfT until September 2021 but the department has failed to provide details of this cap, citing commercial sensitivity – a rationale the committee does not accept.

A ‘root and branch’ review of the management and operation of the railway was announced in September 2018 by the department and is expected later in 2019.

PAC 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 DfT must set out clear governance and accountability structures for the rail system, and move swiftly to provide other important information.”

The department is responsible for setting the strategic direction for the rail industry in England and Wales. It funds Network Rail to maintain and enhance rail infrastructure (£47.9bn between 2019 and 2024).

A DfT spokesperson 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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