NAO report blames infrastructure failures for a third of cancellations on Thameslink

A damning report has said long-suffering passengers on Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern services have travelled on the UK’s worst performing rail service with failures in infrastructure said to account for more than a third of cancellations.

An investigation carried out by the National Audit Office (NAO) found that 37% of all cancellations and delays of more than 30 minutes on Govia Thameslink (GTR) franchise services were mainly due to failures caused by Network Rail in the infrastructure and its management of the network, between July 2015 and March 2017. 

The published report examines the causes of poor performance on the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern network since the franchise began in September 2014, the effects on passenger services, financial outcomes for the operator and the Department, and the Department’s handling of the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “Over the last three years long-suffering passengers on the Thameslink franchise have experienced the worst performance on the rail network. Some of the problems could have been avoided if the Department had taken more care to consider passengers in its design of the franchise.”

"Some of the problems could have been avoided if the Department for Transport had taken more care to consider passengers in the design of the franchise."
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office

The NAO report said: “The Department did not fully evaluate the possible effects on passengers of different scenarios of industrial action before awarding the contract, nor did it ask Govia Thameslink to do so.”

The report also states that Network Rail estimates that up to £900m of work in total is needed to achieve the resilience necessary to run the new services on the Thameslink network reliably. The Department for Transport (DfT) has given Network Rail a £250M grant, and the remaining £50M will be “reprioritised” from the existing maintenance budget.

The watchdog also highlights how GTR had too few drivers when it was awarded the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise. It added that since GTR started operating the full franchise in July 2015, 7.7% of services - about 146,000 services - had either been cancelled or delayed by more than 30 minutes, compared with 2.8% on the rest of the network.

Commenting on the report, GTR chief executive Charles Horton said: “Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern is the UK’s largest franchise – carrying almost a million passengers a day – and the report identifies numerous root causes for the challenges it has faced since its formation in 2014. These difficulties have sometimes been greater than expected and we regret the disruption caused to our passengers.”

Furthermore, the report increases the pressure on Transport secretary Chris Grayling who is still facing scrutiny over the “bailout” out of Virgin trains. It’s claimed the early termination of the East Coast rail franchise contract could see taxpayers lose out on as much as £2bn. The move will be the subject of a Commons vote later today.

The full NAO report can be viewed here.

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