Awards, contracts & appointments

14.03.19

GTR fined record £5m for ‘persistent and prolonged failures’ in May timetable chaos

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) has been fined a record £5m for its role in last year’s May timetable chaos.

The ORR criticised the train operator for “persistent and prolonged failures” in informing passengers as they suffered eight weeks of chaos on the Thameslink and Northern rail routes with hundreds of services cancelled or delayed each day.

The rail regulator carried out the investigation into GTR and Northern’s actions to provide information to passengers in the run-up to and during the severe disruption, and found that GTR had broken the rules for passenger information.

It said GTR “failed to provide appropriate, accurate and timely information,” leaving passengers with “little certainty” around which trains would run.

Some trains were permanently removed from the timetable and passengers were not clearly informed, with further trains removed or cancelled on a daily basis at very short notice and a “severe lack of certainty” for passengers up until the point of travel.

Some services became “ghost trains” as they were introduced so late that there was insufficient time to input their information in journey planners. Replacement buses were used but prolonged delays meant passengers weren’t aware they were available.

The ORR also criticised an “inadequate” internal communication which left frontline staff unable to assist passengers, and it said the effect of all these failures “left passengers with very little notice or certainty.”

This is the first time the ORR has issued a fine for breach of licence, and GTR has 21 days to respond to the penalty notice.

GTR chief executive officer Patrick Verwer said: “We are disappointed at today’s fine imposed by the Office of Rail and Road. We are making significant improvements to information for passengers.

 “The severe disruption following last May’s timetable introduction was due to industry-wide factors and we are sorry for the serious effect this had on our passengers.

“GTR has paid £18m in passenger compensation and is investing a further £15m in improvements for passengers for its part in the timetable issues.”

A separate investigation into Northern found that although passengers did experience inadequate information in many cases, the operator had considered and taken reasonable steps to give passengers information.

Therefore, no further action will be taken against Northern – although the ORR has also written to all train companies and Network Rail to require them to review crisis management plans in the light of its findings.

Stephanie Tobyn, the deputy director of consumers at the ORR, said: “The disruption experienced by many passengers as a result of the May timetable introduction was awful.

“When disruption happens, poor quality information makes an already difficult and frustrating situation worse.

"The exceptional circumstances that followed the introduction of the timetable meant that providing perfect advance information for passengers was from the outset an impossible task and GTR’s overriding focus was on providing as much capacity as it could to meet customer demand.

“However persistent and prolonged failures in information provision meant that passengers couldn’t benefit from the operational improvement it was trying to make.”

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