Chris Grayling under fire after official called for rail compensation scheme to be kept ‘low key’
The Transport Secretary has been blasted after it emerged that an official in his department advised keeping a rail firm's compensation scheme for passengers “low key”.
Commuters were battered by delayed and cancelled services this summer after a botched timetable shake-up, with 470 trains a day axed on the GTR network.
But correspondence obtained under freedom of information laws revealed that an official in the Department for Transport told a rail company not to publicise a compensation scheme set up by GTR to reimburse those affected by the travel chaos.
A message between officials in the department discussing GTR's compensation scheme suggested making the refunds programme known only to “passengers and stakeholders, not media”, while another advised the company to "keep this low key".
The move was blasted by former Transport Secretary Lord Adonis, who told the Telegraph: "If this letter is authentic, the official should be immediately dismissed unless it was an instruction from a higher authority.
“And if it came from ministers, Parliament should be told, because this appears to be an attempt to hoodwink passengers."
Daisy Cooper, the Liberal Democrat candidate for St Albans who obtained the exchanges under FoI, said the revelations reinforced fears that "the department and the minister haven’t got passengers at heart".
Transport Secretary Chirs Grayling was quizzed on the letter at Parliamentary committee hearing on Monday night and told MPs that he had "no idea why that suggestion was made" and that it was "certainly not what happened".
Top Department for Transport official Peter Wilkinson told the Transport Committee: "I cannot explain that".
A spokesperson for the GTR rail firm said "every effort" had been made the publicise the scheme.
“Passengers affected by the disruption in the summer have been encouraged to apply for special industry compensation," they said.
"We are rolling the scheme out in phases, to help ensure it’s a customer-friendly process, contacting passengers directly where possible. Every effort has been made to publicise the scheme.”
The Department for Transport said: "GTR’s compensation scheme was widely publicised at the start of July, shortly before the correspondence in question was sent.
"Our priority was therefore to directly inform passengers eligible for compensation about their right to claim, while also ensuring the process worked smoothly."