Northern Rail faces new inquiry on whether it breached contract over timetable fiasco

Northern rail train
Northern rail train

The transport regulator warned Northern Rail today that it faced “formal enforcement action” if a new inquiry found it had failed to keep passengers sufficiently informed during the summer’s timetable chaos.

The Office of Rail and Road announced a new investigation into whether the company had breached its contractual requirements to tell travellers when and why their journeys were delayed or cancelled.

The move follows an earlier inquiry which concluded last month that “no-one took charge” during the fiasco.

The regulator, which answers to parliament, said it would investigate whether Northern and Govia Thameslink Railway, the operators most affected by the chaos, did “everything reasonably practicable to provide appropriate, accurate and timely information to passengers”.

If they are found not to have done, they face “proportionate” fines up to 10 per cent of their turnover, the organisation said.

The inquiry was welcomed by the watchdog Transport Focus. Its chief executive, Anthony Smith, said: “Passengers were badly let down when new timetables descended into chaos on some Govia Thameslink and Northern routes.

“One thing that would have helped passengers work around these problems was accurate, timely and useful information – but in many cases that was not provided.

“So it’s only right that the regulator investigates if these companies breached the passenger information obligations in their licence.”

The consumer group Which? said the new inquiry was “important”. Alex Hayman, its managing director of public markets, said: “If Govia Thameslink Railway and Northern are found to be in breach of their licence obligations, it is absolutely right that the regulator shows its teeth by taking enforcement action.”

The ORR said it wanted to see whether Northern had breached a condition of its “statement of national regulatory provisions”, which requires companies to provide enough information for passengers to travel “with a reasonable degree of assurance, including when there is disruption.”

A letter from the regulator to the company’s managing director, David Brown, says it has “identified concerns” with the way information was provided. Northern has been given until next Friday to respond.

A decision is expected before the end of next month on whether a contractual breach occurred.

The previous report ruled that Network Rail, the train companies and the Department for Transport “had all made mistakes”. Following its publication, the Government promised a major review of the railways.

The botched timetable change saw Northern cancel up to 310 trains each day, over several weeks, sparking outrage from travellers and politicians.