Chris Grayling said he was “extremely sorry” for the widespread delays and cancellations commuters have faced both in the North and on Govia Thameslink (GTR) services in the South.
He faced angry scenes in the House of Commons yesterday as he announced his latest moves to stem the crisis, with MPs shouting “resign” and urging him to take some responsibility for the failures caused by the introduction of new timetables on May 20.
Cancellations and delays continued on Monday despite the introduction of new temporary timetables.
Yesterday lunchtime, 69 (7 per cent) Northern trains were either cancelled or more than 30 minutes late, with the figure jumping to 102 (8 per cent) on GTR.
The Transport Secretary again placed most of the blame for the failures on Northern-operated lines at the door of Network Rail for failing to deliver engineering upgrades in time.
But in a potentially explosive revelation, Mr Grayling revealed GTR “assured me personally that they were ready” just three weeks before the new timetables were introduced, which he described as “wrong” and “totally unacceptable”, while Northern indicated there would be “a difficult start but not anything like this scale”.
In response, a special compensation scheme will be set up for passengers on both affected routes, funded by the industry, with similar entitlements for the North to last year’s Southern Rail scheme.
Mr Grayling also announced an inquiry by the independent Office of Rail and Road, chaired by Stephen Glaister, into the industry’s failure to bring forward timetable changes which were designed to deliver extra services, to report back this year.
The Tory Minister said he would “not be afraid” to take action against Northern and GTR if they failed to meet their contractual obligations, and held out the threat of stripping the southern operator of its ability run rail franchises.
Mr Grayling said: “I am incredibly frustrated that what should have been an improvement in services for passengers has turned into significant disruption. I am extremely sorry for the levels of disruption that passengers are experiencing and also sorry to those members of staff caught on the sharp end.
“There clearly have been major failures that have led to the situation we are in today. I am clear that the industry must and will be held to account for this.”
Earlier, Theresa May’s official spokesman said the Prime Minister retained full confidence in Mr Grayling as Transport Secretary, despite regarding the rail misery as “totally unacceptable”.
But Mr Grayling again faced growing calls to resign from Labour MPs in the Commons.
Labour’s Gavin Shuker said Mr Grayling was in “deep trouble” while Labour’s Chuka Umunna labelled the Transport Secretary “utterly pointless”.
Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves said passengers have “lost faith” in Mr Grayling, adding: “Isn’t it about time he stepped aside and allowed someone else to do the job who can fix this problem?”
Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn said the more Mr Grayling talks about a lack of preparation, “the more commuters and others on Northern and TransPennine who have suffered so much misery will wonder why the introduction of the new timetable wasn’t cancelled rather than their trains?”