Prime Minister Theresa May has described current disruption to rail journeys as “absolutely unacceptable” and said it was vital for the government to get to grips with the problem.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has come under intense fire over the flood of delays and cancellations of services across the country following the botched introduction of new timetables last month.
Some 25 newspapers across the North of England joined forces to call on the Prime Minister to lead an emergency summit in Downing Street this week to find a solution to the crisis, which has hit the region particularly badly.
Announcing an inquiry into the fiasco on Monday, Mr Grayling singled Northern and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) for criticism as he told the House of Commons that the rail industry had “collectively failed to deliver for the passengers it serves”.
Speaking to ITV News, Chris Grayling said:
"We will now make sure that when the next timetable change comes along, that there is much more focus on making sure that it's done in the right way, and probably done incrementally and not just done in one big bang".
When asked on what will happen if train timetables are not fixed this week, he added, "I'm hopeful we'll see that, but I'm not going to be afraid to take tough action if it's needed."
Mr Grayling updated Cabinet on the problems at its regular weekly meeting at 10 Downing Street.
And Mrs May told the meeting: “It is important we get to grips with this issue quickly. The current passenger disruption is letting people down and it’s absolutely unacceptable.”
The Prime Minister said the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) inquiry into the implementation of timetable changes “must find out what went wrong and ensure the misery currently being endured by the public never happens again”, said her official spokesman.
Mrs May described the need to fix the problem as “an absolute priority”, adding that those affected must be “properly compensated”.
She said the new timetable will deliver hundreds more services when properly implemented, but added that until this can be done there is a need to “urgently minimise the disruption”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “The Government must take urgent action to fix the travel chaos unleashed on the north of England by Chris Grayling’s failures.
“Northern communities already only get a fraction of the transport investment that the South-East receives. The Tories should be working day and night to put this scandal right.
“Their failure to do so shows their disregard for people in the towns and cities in the north.
“If the Transport Secretary won’t stop trying to pass to buck, Theresa May must personally intervene to sort out this mess and end the disruption to people’s lives.”
Mrs May’s official spokesman said the Government wanted the inquiry under ORR chairman Stephen Glaister to deliver initial findings “as early as we can possibly see them” and to publish a report as soon as possible.
Responding to calls for Transport for the North to be given full powers over the region’s railways, the spokesman said: “The Transport Secretary set out yesterday what happened in this instance.
“Network Rail finalised the timetable much too late and GTR and Northern were not prepared to manage the timetable change and did not raise a warning that they were not prepared.
“The key priority now is working with the train companies so they can restore a stable service for passengers.
“We have given Transport for the North unprecedented powers to influence decisions about transport investment in the North and to set out the North’s unified strategic transport plan which the Secretary of State must take into account in exercising his role to maintain coherence of the national network.
“TFN is already playing an important role overseeing the Northern and TP (TransPennine) franchises, but TFN can request additional functions at any time, with the consent of all its members, and it’s important to note that TFN’s current powers reflect exactly what Transport for the North requested.”