‘New Great Northern timetable can show we’ve learned our lessons’

PUBLISHED: 16:18 04 December 2018

GTR passenger services director Stuart Cheshire

GTR passenger services director Stuart Cheshire

Peter Alvey Photographer

The face of Govia Thameslink Railway has pledged a return to the service levels which existed before the timetable chaos which kicked off in May.

Speaking ahead of the introduction of a new timetable on December 10, passenger services director Stuart Cheshire said the train operator was feeling far more confident about these changes than the ones introduced in the spring, which saw severe delays, overcrowding and cancellations on the Great Northern line.

Stuart revealed: “In the build-up to this timetable we’ve had the chance to do everything that we should have done in May to develop this one far more efficiently.

“We’ve now managed to get the drivers in the right place, we’ve created several new depots, we’ve got 80 more drivers than we had in May, and we’ve put the drivers much closer to the start-up positions of the trains, which has allowed a far more efficient development of the [drivers’ work schedules].

“Last time round we had a very late offer back from Network Rail which fundamentally put the drivers in the wrong place for start-up. That’s not occurred this time round so we’re far more confident that the drivers are in the right place for kick-off.”

From December 10 there will be 34 extra services for Stevenage, five peak (0649, arriving 0714 King’s Cross; 0647, arriving 0715 St Pancras; 0740, arriving 0820 King’s Cross; 0913, arriving 0945 St Pancras; 1751 from King’s Cross, arriving in Stevenage at 1838), and 29 off-peak.

There will be 33 extra services for Hitchin made up of four peak (0641, arriving 0715 St Pancras; 0734, arriving 0820 King’s Cross; 0907, arriving 0945 St Pancras; 1751 from King’s Cross, arriving in Hitchin at 1844), and 29 off-peak.

Fast evening services calling at Letchworth and Royston are to be restored. ‘Cambridge flyer’ stops between London King’s Cross and Cambridge past 19.12 will be reinstated too, with the aim of providing much improved later evening service for Baldock, Ashwell & Morden, and the South Cambs villages using reliable connections at Letchworth and Royston.

He offered positive news for passengers using rural stations: “The service recovery framework has been completely reviewed. All of the village stations and stations that have less frequent calls have been analysed and with the introduction of the December timetable there will be a whole new way that they deal with village stations. There shouldn’t be those huge service gaps that we’ve seen before.”

Stuart explained how the spring chaos occurred: “What went on prior to the delivery of the May timetable was that once we got [the timetable] back from Network Rail the whole industry was doing its best to solve its own problems in isolation. We didn’t really understand the full impact of the timetable before we’d run it through our systems and processes, and it really didn’t throw up any massive alarm bells until very close to the day of the race.

“It was far too late to revert back to what would have been the initial timetable because the thousands and thousands of changes that were happening nationally were tied into every other train operator. The late return only affected Northern and us, and that’s where the problem was.

“Those eight weeks were the worst I’ve ever seen in terms of rail service delivery, but [the revised timetable of] July 15, which we used those eight weeks to develop, was a far more reliable and efficient product. What we’re moving to in December is the delivery of the full May timetable as it should have been, having been allowed the time we should have had the first time round to develop it. We are in a position to give me a level of confidence around the December offering that we never had in May.

“Something we’re really looking forward to next year is getting rid of the Class 313s off Great Northern and seeing the introduction of the Class 717s. So we get rid of the oldest fleet on the network and take on the newest. That’s great news for us.”

Referring again to the problems experienced earlier this year, he added: “It was an incredibly tough time for passengers and staff and I just want to thank everybody for their patience.

“What I do hope that we demonstrate by our delivery in December is that we’ve learned our lessons from May and we hope we haven’t bitten off more than we can chew. It’s a step by step reintroduction of services now to get ourselves re-established and try and build some confidence back into the brand that we had before the May timetable.

“We were top performers just prior to then and the hard work that we’ve put in has definitely born some fruits since July, and we just want to make sure we don’t lose that.”

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