Network Rail, Go-via Thameslink Railway (GTR) and Northern today apologised to all passengers affected by recent disruption, and set out how the organisations are going to improve the service for customers as quickly as possible.
What has gone wrong?
Demand for rail services since 1994 has more than doubled to over 1.7bn journeys. While this has been very welcome, it has also brought its challenges and some of our busiest routes are operating at capacity, particularly during peak times. To facilitate the extra services to satisfy the huge growth in demand, the railway is undergoing its biggest modernisation since the Victorian era. And the new timetable, introduced on Sunday 20 May, was planned to be the most ambitious in recent railway history, providing additional capacity for tens of thousands more peak-time commuters.
In order to make space on the network for the thousands of extra services, the timing of all GTR and most Northern services had to be changed. All of these new journeys needed to be individually approved by Network Rail to ensure the national rail network runs safely and smoothly. Unfortunately, as a result of the sheer number of changes required and the late running of some engineering improvements, the process took longer than anticipated, approvals for service changes were delayed and some timetable requests were changed.
Whilst circumstances differ across the country, this meant that train companies had much less time to prepare for the new timetable which required trains and drivers to run on different routes. The differences between the timetables submitted and those approved created a requirement for training that had not been anticipated. This meant that the necessary specialist training was not able to be completed in time for drivers to learn new routes and for operators to address all the logistical challenges.
What are we going to do to put it right?
Network Rail, Northern and GTR are urgently working on comprehensive plans to reduce disruption and give passengers the greatest possible certainty of train services, so they can better plan ahead. Unfortunately, it will take some time to deliver significant improvements to services, but we will keep passengers up to date on all changes we make.
What are we doing to ensure it won’t happen again?
We are reviewing how timetable changes are introduced to better understand the root causes of exactly what went wrong here, so that future changes can implemented more smoothly.
How are we making this up to customers?
Passengers are encouraged to apply for Delay Repay compensation for affected journeys and we are working hard to respond to all claims as soon possible.
Mark Carne, Network Rail’s chief executive said: “There is no doubt that the May timetable was finalised significantly later than normal for reasons that were both within and without our control. The consequences of that have been particularly hard for both Northern and GTR to absorb.
“But we are all firmly focussed on fixing this issue as quickly as possible to give passengers the reliable service they need and deserve. At the moment, in some parts of the country, that simply isn’t happening and for that I’d like to wholeheartedly apologise.”
Charles Horton, CEO, GTR, said: “We always said that delivering the biggest timetable change in generations would be challenging – but we are sorry that we have not been able to deliver the service that passengers expect. Delayed approval of the timetable led to an unexpected need to substantially adjust our plans and resources. We fully understand that passengers want more certainty and are working very hard to bring greater consistency to the timetable as soon as possible. We will also be working with industry colleagues to establish a timetable that will progressively deliver improvement.”
David Brown, Managing Director, Northern said: “We are doing everything we can to minimise cancellations and keep customers informed. It has been extremely difficult for many of our customers, in particular on a number of routes around north Manchester, Liverpool, and Blackpool extending up to Cumbria, and we are truly sorry for this.
“We‘ve agreed a number of actions with the Department for Transport and are urgently working with them on a comprehensive plan to stabilise our services. Such a plan is likely to take a number of weeks to deliver lasting improvements, but we recognise our customers deserve better and that’s what we’re focused on.”
In due course, the Thameslink Programme and the investment programmes on Northern will provide more capacity and reliability as intended, with more trains running more regularly and more reliably to more destinations. But these services will only be re-introduced when we can do so reliably without any negative effect on the service. The industry continues to be confident that the new timetables will work well once bedded-in.
We thank you for your patience and apologise again for the delays in rolling out the new timetable. Everyone in the rail industry is working together to provide a safe, improved and reliable service.