Report released on rail chaos which affected Govia Thameslink passengers
PUBLISHED: 12:33 04 December 2018 | UPDATED: 12:46 04 December 2018
A report into the implementation failings of the May timetable has been published today, naming the “fragmented and over-complicated” system as a key factor which caused chaos for many commuters across Herts, South Cambs and Central Beds.
In its conclusions and recommendations section, the report – carried out by MPs from the government’s Transport Select Committee – discusses how 2018 was a year for infrastructure investment which was intended to create much-needed additional capacity on the railways.
It says: “The system has so far failed to deliver those benefits fully and, in the process, has demonstrated an extraordinary complacency with regard to protecting the interests of passengers.
“Those who suffered in the chaos that ensued have been very badly let down.
“The May 2018 timetabling crisis was in part a consequence of the astonishing complexity of a disaggregated railways, in which the interrelated private train companies operating on publicly-owned and managed infrastructure [Network Rail] have competing commercial interests.
“In a fragmented, over-complicated system, with competing contractual interests, only the Secretary of State [Chris Grayling] had the ultimate authority to judge the inevitable trade-offs and halt the implementation in good time – but at no point was he given all the information he needed to make that decision.”
Patrick Verwer – chief executive of Govia Thameslink Railway, which manages both Great Northern and Thameslink services – said: “We acknowledge the report by the Transport Select Committee into the industry-wide issues surrounding the introduction of the May timetable.
“We have made some significant improvements – particularly in providing information for passengers – following a preliminary investigation by the industry regulator, the Office of Rail and Road.
“We are very sorry for the disruption the May timetable caused and have already processed compensation claims for 68,000 season ticket holders, with the deadline for claims extended to January 31, 2019.
“Since July, services on Thameslink and Great Northern have become more stable and reliable.
“Next week we will begin to introduce 200 mainly off-peak services to complete the phased roll-out of the May weekday timetable, bringing the total number of daily weekday services to 3,600.”
In relation to the recent announcement of a 3.1 per cent rail fares increase in January, the committee said it understood and sympathised with calls for a fare freeze for Thameslink, Great Northern, Northern and TransPennine Express passengers.
It said: “They do not deserve to see their fares increase, up to this cap will be a matter of commercial and political will, but we accept the practical difficulties of applying a fares freeze within the current annual, inflation-linked system. However, around a fifth of rail passengers have suffered appalling services and been very badly let down by the whole system; a fares increase in these circumstances would confirm that the current fares system is broken.”
The report also provides passenger views on the consultation process prior to the implementation of the May timetable.
It says: “Hitchin Rail Commuters Group and Hitchin Rail Users Group reported that GTR had consulted in 2017 on Great Northern service improvements at Hitchin, including more fast services to London King’s Cross and substantial additional capacity, including an increase in morning peak trains from 22 to 24.
“The Hitchin groups believed that GTR’s ‘positive statements meant that many Hitchin rail users felt no need to take part in the consultation’.
“Notwithstanding the chaotic implementation of the new timetable, what the May 2018 timetable delivered did not meet Hitchin passengers’ expectations. For example, it entailed a reduction in morning and evening peak services and loss of express Hitchin to London services.”
It goes on to recommend that the Department for Transport and Network Rail “should work with the operators and engage with passengers to design mitigations that better meet the needs of people travelling to and from the worst-affected stations”. These include Hitchin, Harpenden, Leagrave, Harlington and Flitwick.
The report concludes: “The industry and Network Rail have now adopted a more cautious approach to national rail timetable change in December 2018, and possibly beyond. “We recommend the Department for Transport use this period of relative stability to reassess the effects of the May 2018 timetable change, identifying stations that have lost a significant number of services, particularly at peak times.”
To read the full report, go to publications.parliament.uk.