Timetable chaos: Strong and stable?

Source: RTM June/July 2018

David Sidebottom, director at Transport Focus, paints a stark picture of the considerable human impact of delays across London and the north – even before the full extent of the crisis becomes known.

The current timetable chaos on Thameslink, Great Northern and Northern is deeply frustrating for passengers. Passengers need a stable timetable – one they can rely to get them to work, exams, shops and airports.

Adding to the frustration is that this was meant to be a good news story – building on recent improvements, new trains and services should have been a win for passengers.

We’ve been warning since November about problems in getting accurate timetables finalised. We were told that, bar some initial teething problems, it would be okay. How wrong the industry turned out to be…

A few stories that have been flooding in illustrate the impact:

  • One woman in East Anglia took a day’s leave to drive her daughter to college for her A-Level exams – they weren’t confident the trains would run properly during this timetable chaos;
  • A South Yorkshire passenger with mobility problems has been putting off a visit to their elderly father in West Cumbria. It can be a three-train trip, and they explained: “It's been a while since I was last up there and I’m supposed to be going to see him shortly. However, I'm putting off my trip: each time I look at the live times on Northern’s mobile app I see lots of trains either cancelled, partially cancelled or delayed… I'm not willing to take the risk of getting stranded miles from where I need to be.”
  • Eight-months-pregnant Abi had a four-hour trek home from Huntingdon that included a slow crawl on a coach to Hitchin. The journey should have taken 55 minutes on Thameslink, and then another hour from Finsbury Park to South London;
  • A London (former) passenger told us: “My train was getting cancelled very frequently and the new timetable meant that the trains that did run were packed. I've now started to drive, which I hate, but I feel for the sake of securing my job and family life I’ve got no choice.”

So what can we do about it? We’ve been monitoring service levels and out and about speaking to passengers. We’ve mobilised our Transport User Panel to provide feedback on people’s experience, and of course people engage with us on Twitter too.

Some of the passengers most affected by the interim timetable are on the line between Windermere and Oxenholme in Cumbria. We have set up a bespoke survey to monitor people’s experience on rail replacement buses.

Our National Rail Passenger Survey will help gauge passenger reaction once the changes have settled down.

We use our unique blend of research, experience and on-the-ground feedback to work with operators to get improvements in the here and now. We’ve also spoken to rail minister Jo Johnson and Transport for the North. We’ve pushed for stable timetables and reliable services; compensation for poor service, measured against the original timetable promised, not the slimmed down one now on offer; and for the whole rail industry to pull together to aid passengers through this crisis, lift ticket restrictions and help passengers whichever train company they need to use.

We got GTR to relax ticket restrictions so that passengers can get the first train that comes going to where they want to be. Passengers with tickets normally valid only on Southern or Thameslink can now use the Gatwick Express.

Northern’s temporary timetable removed 165 trains each day to buy time to get the driver training finished. We are calling for the operator to offer passengers Delay Repay compensation against the timetable which should have been running.

And it’s not just about Delay Repay. Compensation must recognise the human impact – the extent of the disruption to people’s lives. We will be pushing operators for more details, including how non-season-ticket-holders will be able to claim.

Top image: Gareth Fuller via PA Wire


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