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Mon, 30 March 2020

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Former Defence Secretary Michael Fallon tells Chris Grayling: 'Get a grip' of rail chaos

Former Defence Secretary Michael Fallon tells Chris Grayling: 'Get a grip' of rail chaos

Liz Bates

3 min read

Michael Fallon has urged Chris Grayling to "get a grip" of the rail crisis which has seen hundreds of train journeys either delayed or cancelled.

In a surprise intervention, the former Defence Secretary said the chaos following the introduction of new timetables was a "disaster" and demanded urgent government intervention.

The MP for Sevenoaks, who was forced to quit his Cabinet post last year at the height of the Westminster sexual harassment scandal,  told the BBC: “This is now week three and it is becoming a scandal.

“My constituents can’t get to work in London, their children can’t get to trains to school, and we are now into more cancellations even with the emergency timetable.

“It really is time now that ministers get a grip of this and force Thameslink to get on and run a decent service – if necessary borrowing drivers from other companies who know the routes."

He added: “All of this was supposed to be an improvement, that was the point of the new timetable, and it’s turned out to be disaster."

Asked what his constituents' response was to the situation, he replied: "The Secretary of State is in charge and they are very clear that government in the end has to intervene now and sort this out."

Mr Fallon's comments came as Mr Grayling was left red-faced after being forced to delay or cancel meetings with angry MPs because there was not enough time to fit them all in.

In an email, Tory MP James Heappey, who is Mr Grayling's Parliamentary Private Secretary, said: "We’ve had a large number of colleagues asking for a meeting with Chris Grayling or Jo Johnson to discuss the timetable changes and subsequent disruption on the Northern and Govia Thameslink network.

“We’ve tried to accommodate people on a first come first served basis but, even with appointments running solidly between 6-10pm for both ministers, we’ve been unable to accommodate a significant number of colleagues at this stage.”

Responding to the news, Labour MP Lisa Nandy – whose Wigan constituency was affected by the disruption – said: "The Government’s handling of the Northern rail crisis has been complete chaos. While trains have ground to a halt the silence from government has been deafening.

"The Transport Secretary gave MPs just 10 minutes each to discuss their concerns with him – only to cancel or rearrange many of them as result of ‘unexpectedly’ high demand.”

This afternoon Mr Grayling told MPs an inquiry into the timetabling problems would be conducted by Professor Stephen Glaister and would share it findings with ministers and the rail industry as soon as possible, reporting in full by the end of the year. 

In a statement to the House he said: "The inquiry will consider why the system as a whole failed to produce and implement an effective timetable." 

He also pledged compensation for passengers that had been affected by the disruption. 

In response, Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald called for him to quit, telling MPs: “The travelling public and the rail industry have no faith in the Transport Secretary to fix the situation.

“Were the Prime Minister not so enfeebled she would sack him. If he had any concept of responsibility he would resign. The Transport Secretary should do the right thing and step aside.”

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