Rail bosses have apologised to MPs for the botched introduction of new train timetables last month.
Charles Horton, outgoing chief executive of Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and David Brown, managing director of Arriva Rail North, had been summoned to face the Transport Select Committee over the thousands of delayed and cancelled trains since 20 May.
The rail industry had adopted a “big bang” approach to bringing in new schedules in southeast and northwest England. But within hours of the timetable change taking place, the plans unravelled – largely due to a shortage of drivers trained for the new working patterns.
The RMT union summed up the rail chaos on the first working day of the new timetable as “Meltdown Monday”, while the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, demanded renationalisation.
Lilian Greenwood, the Labour chair of the committee, began the hearing by quoting from messages from travellers suffering from a “diabolical service”, causing damage to family and working lives.
Mr Horton said: “I’m terribly sad and terribly sorry that it has ended as it has.” He said the root cause was the “slow pace” of Network Rail in putting the timetable together, which meant the driver training and rostering had to be compressed into much less time than normal.
“All the detailed complicated resource planning tasks, which we would normally spread over 12 weeks, we had to complete in three weeks,” he said.
He said that GTR became aware of serious problems only on the Thursday night three days before the new timetables that took effect.
Mr Horton said it was his personal decision to resign as a result of what he called a “systemic failure” by the rail industry.
David Brown, managing director of Arriva Rail North, which operates as Northern, said he was “personally and truly sorry” about the shambles.
He said that he had asked for the implementation of the new timetables to be postponed. But, he said: “A significant number of other players did not want that to happen.”
Hugh Merriman, Conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle, said: “I’m just amazed that there wasn’t a timetable project manager who went round and got your sign-offs, reported to the Department of Transport and various others.
“I’m just really staggered that that didn’t exist.”
Charles Horton of GTR replied: “I think we’ve proven that trying to squeeze major timetable change into a few weeks is just fraught with risk and difficulty.”
Executives from Network Rail were also questioned by MPs. Jo Kaye, managing director, system operator, for Network Rail, said she was “deeply sorry” about the problems. She said the timetable rewrite “took longer than we had hoped,” but that the rail industry decided to go ahead with the planned changes.
“Everyone was absolutely in a spirit of hugely positive forward momentum to make those changes happen for the benefit of passengers in the round,” she said.
“Clearly with hindsight, you might describe it as ‘over-ambitious’, but at the time we were rightly committed to making those changes.”
An Industry Readiness Board was responsible for monitoring preparations for the timetable changes.
Ms Greenwood said it would be “absolutely essential” for the minutes of the board’s meetings to be published.