Below is my open letter sent to Alistair Burt, MP for NE Bedfordshire, sent on 29th May concerning the chaos on the railways affecting many thousands of commuters in Bedfordshire. As I post this on 31st May, 11 days after the start of the botched timetable, Chris Horton finally breaks cover stating the introduction would always be challenging…..
I know you are aware of the chaos following the introduction of the new GTR timetable on 20th May. The disruption is continuing, last night there was a gap in the service between 20.49 and 01.36 for trains serving Arlesey, Biggleswade and Sandy and there have been further cancellations this morning.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this debacle is that the principal causes (in short – the lack of trained drivers and availability of rolling stock) were widely known in the industry prior to the introduction of the timetable. GTR must of course also have known this, so either ran the risk fully aware of the outcome, or were pressurised into doing so. Either option raises serious questions which must be answered as soon as possible.
I understand there were also issues surrounding the late delivery of the new timetable and delays to the opening of new train crew depots.
I do note your request for a select committee to be convened to look into the issue, but wherever the blame lies there must be a full independent enquiry into causes of the botched introduction, which you will recall only a few days ago was being hailed as the dawn of a new age of rail travel. Any enquiry should include representation from passengers, including disabled passengers, as well as the rail unions who represent the staff who have been in the front line of this fiasco.
Whatever the reasons the implementation of the timetable has caused huge inconvenience to many thousands of your constituents. It has also led to the front line staff, who I’m sure you will agree are entirely blameless in this, bearing the brunt of the understandable anger of commuters. I was on the ‘passenger revolt’ train at Hitchin last week that was featured in the media where the driver’s cab was surrounded. The fact that GTR have put their staff in the firing line, in the full knowledge of what was to happen, displays a total lack of any duty of care to their staff.
Unfortunately GTR seem very reluctant to publicly acknowledge their responsibility in this issue. One aspect of this is that they continue to announce the reason for cancellations as “due to a lack of drivers”. This is not the case as the reality is that it is due to the inability of GTR to train their drivers in time for the new timetable. A more accurate announcement would be to state “…this train is cancelled due to the inability of GTR to organise route learning for our drivers….” The way GTR are framing their announcements suggests the blame is that of the driver not the organisation and increases the likelihood of verbal or physical abuse of drivers and platform staff. I would be grateful if you could stress this point when speaking to GTR.
Finally, recent revelations concerning the approach of GTR to disabled passengers, indicate a wholly unsatisfactory attitude to disabled passengers, where the avoidance of delays seems to take priority over the needs of disabled people. The Association of British Commuters, who you can follow at @ABCommuters has a great deal of information on this issue. There have also been reports of ‘booked assistance’ not turning up at stations during the disruption. As you know we are working together on this issue in relation to access improvements at Biggleswade station, but I have to say that communications with GTR since our meeting on the 4th May have not filled us with any confidence. GTR and other UK rail companies need to work ‘with’ disabled people not ‘for’ them. A genuine step change in attitude is needed and I believe the lead must come from government, not the Train Operating Companies.