Secretary of State for Transport
Great Minster House
33 Horseferry Road
30 December 2014
I am writing regarding the unacceptable disruption to the rail network, which has resulted in thousands of passengers suffering major delays in recent days.
As you know, the Office for Rail Regulation (ORR) has launched an investigation into what happened and will look at why the engineering work was allowed to overrun to such an extent.
But I believe there are also a number of questions around the work that the Government undertook, and in particular Ministers, in preceding weeks and months regarding Network Rail’s performance and ability to carry out the projects.
In November this year, the Office for Rail Regulation (ORR) published a damning report which found that Network Rail was behind in completing its maintenance work, had missed its punctuality targets and was already £40 million over budget for the year. The ORR has also said that Network Rail needs to find more efficiencies in its operations.
It is clear that the Government should have been alert to future problems and responded appropriately to the report which contained data and analysis of Network Rail’s performance between April and October 2014. Was the report not a massive warning sign for you that there would be serious delivery challenges associated with Network Rail’s planned major maintenance work over Christmas?
Given Ministers allowed Network Rail to proceed with the sheer scale of the Boxing Day shutdown (despite the Conservative party promising before the last election to do something about the lack of services on Boxing Day), wasn’t it apparent that the impact of the engineering works risked ensuing problems into the weekend, potentially causing severe disruption for large numbers of people trying to travel?
Did you or other Ministers at the Department for Transport properly scrutinise the planned level of maintenance work over the Christmas period and raise any concerns? Were any assurances sought by Ministers that the plans were robust enough and that there was sufficient resilience in the system to ensure that there would not be continued disruption into weekend? Did Ministers demand that adequate contingency plans be set in place for when failures like this occur?
In a statement yesterday, the Chief Executive of Network Rail, Mark Carne, conceded that there should now be a: “broader, industry-wide review, into the timing of our major works programmes and the passenger contingency arrangements for such works”.
To be frank, in recent days Ministers have done their utmost to shift the blame on to others. But this happened on the Government’s watch and it seems nothing was done to intervene when issues were brought to your attention in the weeks beforehand. It appears that Ministers were asleep on the job.
To make matters worse, the Railway Minister, Claire Perry MP, seems to be in denial about the problems, writing over the weekend that she was “so chuffed” with what is happening with the railways and failed to even mention the misery of recent days.
Passengers deserve better than the terrible service they have suffered recently. As the crisis wore on last weekend and you were forced to finally issue a statement, you said lessons must be learnt and responsibility taken for mistakes. I hope you will agree that this should also apply to Ministers.
As this clearly commands considerable public interest, I am releasing this letter to the media.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Michael Dugher MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Transport