Facing the wrath of MPs in Parliament, transport secretary Chris Grayling this week launched an investigation and vowed to punish negligent parties


Chris Grayling speaking in the Commons on June 4


Transport secretary Chris Grayling has warned Govia Thameslink Railway that it faces losing its contract in the wake of plummeting train service reliability following the launch of the new Thameslink timetable on May 20. Parent company Govia could also be banned from bidding for future franchises.

Following a statement to Parliament this week, Grayling said GTR’s future would be determined initially by whether it could resolve the situation rapidly, and subsequently by a Department for Transport review and an Office of Rail and Road investigation due to report in the autumn.

There is unquestionably a large question mark over them as regard the future. To have any chance of surviving in the rail industry they need to sort this out quickly

“I’m very clear that I expect GTR to deliver an improvement as quickly as possible. If they fail to do so they will lack the credibility to continue as operator,” Grayling said in response to repeated demands from MPs that GTR should be stripped of its franchise. He reiterated: “There is unquestionably a large question mark over them as regard the future. To have any chance of surviving in the rail industry they need to sort this out quickly.”

If the ORR investigation, headed by chairman Stephen Glaister, and the DfT review show GTR is materially in breach of its contract, Grayling said he would use “the full force of the franchise agreement and my powers under the Railways Act” against the company, adding that would “include how such a failure impacts on their [Govia’s] eligibility to hold a franchise bidding passport”.

Arriva-owned Northern’s position will also come under scrutiny following a similar failure of its new timetable. However, Grayling recognised that company had faced additional planning pressures due to Network Rail’s late delivery of electrification and route upgrades. In Northern’s case, he said the expectation of rapid improvements in performance should include particular focus on restoring services on the Lakes line which the company has replaced with a bus service as part of a plan to restore punctuality. He told MPs he had made clear to the company that the suspension of service must not go beyond the initial two weeks Northern has announced.

As well as informing decisions on potential sanctions against the operators, the ORR investigation will examine the role played by senior Network Rail and DfT managers involved in planning and monitoring the introduction of the new timetables. “I am sufficiently angry with what has happened that anyone who is found to be negligent in this should not be carrying on in the job that they are in now,” Grayling said. 

A leading political analyst in  the transport sector told Passenger Transport that Grayling’s comments indicated that he “wanted a scalp” and would be expecting Glaister to provide one.

If I was Govia or Arriva, I’d be thinking ‘holy crap, I could lose my franchise’

“If I was Govia or Arriva, I’d be thinking ‘holy crap, I could lose my franchise’,” he commented. “Normally you would expect a secretary of state to defend the status quo and say it’s disappointing, blah blah blah. Grayling was not in that place. He was much more vociferous than previous incumbents in wanting to take action and virtually said at one point that if individuals are culpable, they will go. He looked like an SoS who was seriously pissed off, at the end of his tether and thinking the system should work but no one in the industry is helping me make it work.”

Grayling’s statement followed a day of back-to-back meetings with MPs demanding action over the impact of cancelled and unreliable services on their constituents. Criticism from Tory colleagues included former defence secretary Michael Fallon and former party chairman Grant Shapps making TV appearances to demand that Grayling demonstrate he could take control of the situation.


Further coverage appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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