BOARD SHOULD HAVE BEEN BUILT IN FROM THE START, SAYS ORR
THE THAMESLINK Industry Readiness Board (IRB) was ‘not a sufficient forum’ and ‘clearly did not adequately test GTR’s (Govia Thameslink Railway’s) plans for the May timetable change’, according to the Office of Rail and Road.
Representatives of ORR attended a House of Commons Transport Committee session to discuss the continued fallout from the timetable change, including aspects of the report by the regulator’s chair Professor Stephen Glaister that was released in September. The IRB, chaired by Chris Gibb, was set up in early 2017 to monitor delivery of the enhanced Thameslink services through the Thameslink Programme.
ORR’s Director, Strategy and Policy Dan Brown told the Committee: ‘For the most part the work that the IRB did was immensely valuable. The IRB was a very necessary forum for the introduction of a complex programme that brought together multiple new technologies, multiple systems, new rolling stock, new infrastructure and the implementation of the franchise.’ However, Mr Brown suggested the IRB was ‘a relatively informal structure’ and ‘an add-on to the formal programme management structures that had been in place for several years for the Thameslink Programme’.
Mr Brown said the IRB would have had more effect ‘had it been built into the Thameslink Programme structure from the start, had it had executive authority and had it had the resources that it needed to gain expert third-party advice throughout its process.’ He suggested ORR’s final report into the timetable change issues, set to be released later this year, would make recommendations concerning the IRB’s role.
LACK OF INDEPENDENT ADVICE
Mr Brown also suggested ‘the advice that [the IRB] received from the independent advisory panel (the IAP was chaired by Chris Green and set up to support the IRB) was not, in our view, robust enough’, noting the IAP’s model was based on ‘a relatively informal style of working’.
‘They were taking, largely at face value, the assurances they received from GTR’ Mr Brown told the committee. ‘They were not bringing independent advice to that assessment. I believe that the independent assurance panel was largely misnamed. There was not a great deal of independent assurance of the sort of detail that might reasonably have been expected at that time. Unfortunately, it was the assurance provided by those processes that the DfT and ORR largely relied on in executing our functions in the process as well.’
However, Mr Brown supported having bodies such as the IRB, suggesting they ‘need to be more common when developing and implementing major programmes’. He noted some of the issues with the northern programmes ‘may have been managed better or avoided had there been a much greater system understanding of the complexities of introducing those electrification projects’.
Asked about the decision to re-phase the Thameslink enhancements and the time taken by the Department for Transport to agree that decision, Mr Brown noted ORR had reviewed ‘quite a large number of internal documents from the Department for Transport’ and had seen ‘the very iterative process that went on between the DfT and GTR’. While he said ORR did not make a judgement about whether that process was appropriate, Mr Brown suggested that if the IRB had been in place earlier the phasing decision could have been made at an earlier stage, potentially avoiding the subsequent disruption.
ADVICE ON WIRING DELAYS
Referencing the delays to electrification schemes in the north of England, Mr Brown said ORR had found that Network Rail’s System Operator function was ‘in a unique position to understand the risks and report on them to other participants in the programme boards’. However, he said the SO was also ‘the only body in a position to provide advice to the DfT, to the programme boards and to the industry as a whole around alternative options for mitigating the risks, and they did not take that additional step’. Mr Brown noted a new programme management office inside Network Rail has now been created to perform this function.
Addressing the committee earlier in the same session, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling suggested Network Rail’s Chief Executive at the time, Mark Carne, should have had a better handle on the emerging issues around the electrification programme. Mr Brown said Mr Carne had told ORR’s inquiry that ‘the weight of his decision was to prioritise the delivery of the schemes, because that is what Network Rail had promised the Government, and that he was prioritising the benefits to passengers from the delivery of those schemes for the May timetable’, adding ‘as we have clearly seen, that was a poor judgement’.
Mr Brown said that had risks been identified and a decision taken to defer timetable improvements the Department for Transport would have needed to rule on the decision. However, he noted ‘Those options were never even created, let alone offered, to the Department. We find that is a significant gap in the industry. The Department can make decisions only on the basis of the information it receives. It did not receive any information because that information and advice on alternative options did not exist in any functional system that would be built into the process.’
Professor Glaister told the committee the decision to press on with delivery without assessing the risk of non-completion is symptomatic of a wider industry issue, ‘concentration on delivering stuff, infrastructure’. ‘They were doing their best to get wires and things in place so that electric trains could run, without adequate consideration, as we now know, of the implications for passengers of the risk that that would not be delivered in time for the operating timetable’ he suggested. ‘An issue for us in developing our recommendations…will be to what extent we are allowed to plan a timetable assuming that things will become available when they are not available now’ he added. ‘If you are making an assumption that something important will be available, which does not turn out to be available, you have the outcome we recognise.’ GTR sets sights on the future, p68