Hundreds of trains were cancelled following the timetable changes © PA Images
Hundreds of trains were cancelled following the timetable changes © PA Images

'No clear accountability' for major rail projects

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
20 September 2018

An inquiry into the botched introduction of new train timetables has highlighted problems with accountability and risk management.

In an interim report the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said there was “no clear accountability for the management of systemic risks for major programmes”.

Timetable changes in May 2018 for lines run by Northern in the North West of England and on Govia Thameslink trains into London resulted in hundreds of cancellations, due mainly to driver shortages. Delays to the North West Electrification Project also contributed to the problems.

The ORR said the different organisations involved – including train operating companies, Network Rail and the Department for Transport (DfT) – created a “lack of clarity”.

“The inquiry has found that the diffuse nature of accountability for different programmes across the industry and government results in a lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities for the oversight and control of complex system risks,” said the report.

“There is an apparent gap in industry responsibility and accountability for the management of systemic risks. Industry process needs to change to accommodate these responsibilities.”

The ORR said phase two of the inquiry, due to report by the end of the year, would “consider whether further measures should be taken to oversee and manage systemic risks” arising from areas including franchising.

“The increased probability of project and programme changes being required in the future suggests that the government and industry should work together to consider a system of programme management where change control decisions need to be made,” said the report.

The report also said there was anecdotal evidence of “inherent optimism bias” in the rail industry, with the impact on passengers “often under-prioritised or not considered”.

“It has been suggested to the inquiry that this optimism may result in, or exacerbate, a cultural disinclination to communicate bad news to a senior level or across institutional boundaries as projects fall behind, leading to late decision-making in response to problems and unrealistic optimism for the probability of project delivery, up until the point that failure becomes certain,” said the report.

Meanwhile, the DfT has announced a “root and branch” review of rail, including the franchising system, industry structures, accountability and value for money.

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