Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is under increasing pressure over chaos on the railways, after the prime minister said recent disruption was “unacceptable”.
Theresa May addressed her cabinet about it on Tuesday as Mr Grayling listened on, telling her minsters that the botched introduction of new timetables had led to “misery” for passengers.
Mr Grayling has faced calls to resign over the nationwide delays and cancellations of services, but has so far managed to hold on to his job.
The problems are now threatening to spiral into a political crisis with some 25 newspapers across the North of England calling on Ms May to lead an emergency summit in Downing Street this week and to review all rail franchising.
The prime minister told her cabinet on Tuesday: “It is important we get to grips with this issue quickly. The current passenger disruption is letting people down and it’s absolutely unacceptable.”
She said an independent inquiry announced by Mr Grayling 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”.
Ms 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”.
The prime minister’s official spokesman did not commit her to agreeing to the emergency summit, but did set out the work that was already underway to solve the problems and said that it was at the top of the cabinet’s agenda.
Announcing an inquiry into the fiasco on Monday, Mr Grayling singled Northern and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) for criticism as he told the Commons that the rail industry had “collectively failed to deliver for the passengers it serves”.
But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was Mr Grayling’s own failures that were in part responsible for the state of affairs.
He said: “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.”
Network Rail, GTR and Northern have issued apologies for the chaos, saying they did not have sufficient time to plan for the introduction of the new timetables because of delayed engineering works.
They said the disruption had come as part of “the biggest modernisation [of the railways] since the Victorian era”.