Hitchin commuters’ petition against ‘nightmare’ rail timetable

Hitchin Highbury councillor Sam Collins with Hitchin Rail Commuter campaigners Beccy Forrow and Ros

Hitchin Highbury councillor Sam Collins with Hitchin Rail Commuter campaigners Beccy Forrow and Ros Southward. Picture: Hitchin Rail Commuters - Credit: Archant

“It’s a nightmare” – that’s the verdict from Hitchin commuters who have launched a petition against a new rail timetable, with more than 1,100 signatures so far.

The petitioners say the new train times from Govia Thameslink, which runs the Great Northern line, cut the number of morning-peak trains from Hitchin, axe direct evening-peak trains back from London King’s Cross, and cut the number of trains stopping at Finsbury Park – where City workers change for Moorgate.

But Govia says the new timetable, coming in from May 20, will see services between Hitchin and London increase – and says “significant misunderstanding” has been caused by the new timetable’s routing of some services through London St Pancras rather than King’s Cross.

Especially concerned are commuting parents, who are set to lose their fast trains home around nursery and school drop-off and pick-up times. Fast trains at 5.07pm and 5.37pm – which take 24 to 26 minutes and allow kids to be picked up by 6pm or 6.30pm – have given way to services at least 10 minutes slower.

Emma Bown, who started the petition, said: “This new timetable is a nightmare for so many people, especially those with childcare responsibilities.

“As a working mum, I now have a very real dilemma. I can either pay for more childcare so I can arrive at work at a reasonable time – meaning I see my children less – or I reduce my hours at work, which means I am impacted financially.

“I know I am not alone in facing this problem. We were promised a faster, better service. This is anything but that.”

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A Govia spokesman said the sub-30-minute journey times “of a few current trains, some of which currently run non-stop to Hitchin, could not be replicated” due to factors including the new need for trains to dovetail with the Thameslink line at St Pancras.

According to Govia, passenger numbers between Hitchin and London have soared more than 70 per cent in 14 years. The operator says its new services will provide Hitchin commuters with 50 more carriages each morning and evening peak, with all these trains stopping at Finsbury Park.

But the spokesman added: “Because of the 70-per-cent increase in passenger numbers and the reality of operating what is a very congested railway, we have to stop our trains for longer at stations to allow more people to get on and off, and this has added a few minutes to journey times.”

Campaigners supporting the petition include Ros Southward, who has set up a Facebook group called Hitchin Rail Commuters in response to the new timetable.

She said: “The campaign has had an overwhelming response but I’m not surprised. We need as many people as possible to sign the petition and contact Great Northern, our MP and the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.”

Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami is set to discuss the campaign with Ros today.

See the petition at bit.ly/2jKL1u2. The campaigners intend for it to go to Great Northern later this week.

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