For many months, Sir Oliver has been pressing for further information and for changes to the proposed timetables covering stations within his constituency, particularly fast services to and from London in the peak. He has met with Govia on several occasions and has discussed his concerns with the Rail Minister. Sir Oliver has been working closely with Rail Users’ Groups, who have been having detailed discussions with Govia representatives.
The new timetables were introduced on 20 May 2018 and will be subject to further adjustment in December 2018.
Sir Oliver has recently received this statement from Katherine Cox of Govia :
“The new timetable is being introduced to address the significant growth experienced on our routes over the last 12 years where passenger demand has doubled. We have reviewed all aspects of our timetable and attempted where possible to match this with passenger demand. We have also sought to simplify our services by carrying out a complete overhaul of the timetable and are reducing its complexity to address some of the performance issues which have affected the delivery of our services over a number of years by creating a more 'standard' timetable throughout the day.
The timetable changes are a critical part of RailPlan 20/20, our programme to modernise rail services in the south east, taking advantage of the new infrastructure and trains provided by the Thameslink Programme. This major rewrite of the timetable will provide new journey opportunities, better intervals between trains, improved reliability, and more capacity, responding as mentioned above, to the growth in passenger numbers across the GTR network.
Additionally, current stopping times at many stations are currently too short to reasonably allow for those getting on and off trains. To account for this in the rewrite of the timetable, additional time has been allowed to accommodate the need for additional passengers to board and alight. We’ve also reviewed all the intermediate running times between stations to make sure our timetable reflects reality. We know this may mean journeys are timetabled to take slightly longer in some circumstances, but the overall reliability will be improved as a result of the marginally increased stopping time. Many services also have very short turnaround times at destination stations, so the slightest delay on the route means they don’t start their return journey on time and the delay can multiply. The new timetable has increased turnaround times at stations to help trains stick to their scheduled times.
For Letchworth, the new timetable will give almost a third more carriages and over 20% more seats. However, I appreciate that your main concern regarding the new timetable is the reduction in service. The Off-Peak train service will be increased from two to four trains per hour.
Between 08:00 and 09:00 Letchworth station receives 3 direct trains to Finsbury Park and in the new timetable this will increase to 4. In addition, the new Thameslink service between Cambridge and Brighton will only operate with 1 train per hour until December 2018, when 2 trains per hour will run.
We appreciate that the changes might not fit with everyone’s existing routine or arrangements but we have worked hard to produce a timetable that meets the needs of the majority of people who travel with us and, given the hundreds of thousands of passengers who travel with us daily, we have produced a timetable which provides greater reliability and confidence for those passengers. Furthermore, the timetable itself has been created following one of the biggest consultations of its type ever conducted with in excess of 28,000 comments received and evaluated.”
Sir Oliver is pressing for further information on why the new timetable is not being fully introduced, for example with scheduled trains to St Pancras not running. He continues to press Govia for a better deal for our area in the December timetable and is organising a meeting with Govia and local Rail Users’ Groups, hopefully in July, for a full discussion of these issues.
Original proposals suggested that a bus service might run for up to seven years while works were done to a Stevenage fifth platform but following pressure from Sir Oliver and fellow MPs, including meetings with the Rail Minister, the bus service will be introduced in December and last for two years. Sir Oliver will continue to monitor and press for the best possible outcome for passengers.
22.5.18 - Sir Oliver is receiving complaints that many services are being cancelled. He has asked for an explanation and been told by GNR that there is "a transition period". He has complained that it was not made clear in advance that this would affect the Royston to Kings Cross/St Pancras line.
He is meeting Stuart Cheshire, Passenger Services Director of GNR this morning for a frank discussion. He has also contacted Transport Secretary Chris Grayling MP to explain the frustration of local commuters.
22.5.18 - Sir Oliver met Stuart Cheshire, Passenger Services Director for Govia, to the House of Commons this morning. Sir Oliver read out to him a comprehensive list of passengers’ concerns and asked for Mr Cheshire to account for Govia’s actions and failures over recent days. Mr Cheshire apologised profusely for the cancellations and delays and explained that there are and have been a range of issues beyond Govia’s control. Mr Cheshire assured Sir Oliver that there would be day-by-day incremental improvements, for example the rate of cancellations on the Cambridge to King’s Cross line today will be about one third of yesterday’s level. There will be continuing improvements and Mr Cheshire promised that there will be a “step change” within 3 weeks, particularly on Thameslink services. Govia expect to be the new timetable fully in 4 to 6 weeks. Mr Cheshire accepted that Govia had not done enough to explain the difficulties in advance.
Sir Oliver is also taking up passengers’ concerns with the Secretary of State for Transport.
23.5.18 - Remarks by the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, in the House this afternoon, in a debate about services in the North. He lays much of the blame for this week’s problems at the door of Network Rail.
Chris Grayling :
I am going to keep my remarks brief, because many Members want to speak. However, I do want to say a quick word about this week’s timetable issues on the railways.
What we have seen in the last few days has not been good enough. No one should underestimate the logistical challenge of introducing a timetable change. The changes have been made for a very good reason: they mean a big expansion of services across the country. A timetable change of such a scale involves reorganising staff rotas, training staff for new routes, and reorganising how we deploy our trains. It needed months of preparation, and I am afraid that a number of things went wrong, but most particularly the fact that for the second time in six months, Network Rail was far too late in finalising planned timetable changes and left the rest of the industry struggling to catch up. I am not happy with that at all and I have told the leadership of Network Rail that it cannot happen again.
I know that many passengers have had disrupted journeys; that is not good enough. I am sorry that that was the case, and everyone in my Department and people elsewhere are working hard to get the problem sorted out. But this has been a major teething problem in what will be a step forward for the railways.
29.5.18 - I have received this letter from the Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP about the timetable.
31.5.18 - I have just received this joint media statement from Network Rail, GTR and Northern:
We are again extremely sorry to all passengers affected by recent disruption, and are setting out how we are going to improve the service for our 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 be 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 as 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 focussed 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.
4.6.18 - I met the Passenger Services Director for Govia, Stuart Cheshire, again this afternoon and was given some slightly more encouraging news. He said that from today, Govia will be advertising an interim timetable on the various rail websites and all advertised services will run (barring unforeseen circumstances such as last minute driver illness). So passengers should be able to have confidence that a service that is shown will actually run each day. In addition, extra services will be introduced to the interim timetable as more drivers finish their route training.
GTR is planning an improved amended timetable and I will ask for regular updates.
I welcome, at last, a level of certainty that will allow passengers to plan their journeys.
Further discussions about concerns over the May timetables are continuing.
I had a frank meeting with Secretary of State Chris Grayling to ask him to put pressure on GTR to end commuter chaos and bring back a reliable service, timetable and information for passengers. I also pressed for proper passenger compensation.
Statement to the House of Commons by Chris Grayling MP, Secretary of State for Transport. Monday 4 June 2018
'I am pleased to take the earliest opportunity to update the House on the recent difficulties around the timetable changes, in particular on some GTR and Northern routes.
I want to be absolutely clear: passengers on these franchises are facing totally unsatisfactory levels of service. It is my and my Department’s No. 1 priority to make sure that the industry restores reliability for passengers to an acceptable level as soon as possible. I assure the passengers affected that I share their frustration about what has happened, and that I am sorry that this has taken place.
The timetable change was intended to deliver the benefits to passengers of major investments in the rail network, meaning new trains, including all trains on the Northern and TransPennine Express networks, being either new or refurbished; the Great North Rail Project infrastructure upgrades worth well over £1 billion, such as those at the Ordsall Chord and Liverpool Lime Street; and in the south-east, through the Thameslink programme, new trains and improved stations, including London Bridge and Blackfriars.
The huge growth in passenger numbers in recent years demanded expanded routes, services and extra seats, but this timetable change has resulted instead in unacceptable disruption for the passengers who rely on these services. The most important thing right now is to get things back to a position of stability for those passengers, but it is also vital to understand what has happened and why we are in the situation we are in today. The circumstances of the failures are different on the Northern and GTR networks.
The investigations that are being carried out right now are providing more information about what has gone wrong, but it is worth being clear that the industry remained of the view until the last moment that it would be able to deliver the changes. That is the bit that everyone will find hard to understand and it is why there has to be a proper investigation into what has taken place.
On Northern, which is co-managed through the Rail North Partnership by Transport for the North and my Department, early analysis shows that the key issue was that Network Rail did not deliver infrastructure upgrades in time, in particular the Bolton electrification scheme, with damaging consequences. This forced plans to be changed at a very late stage, requiring a complete overhaul of logistics and crew planning. The early analysis also shows that on GTR’s Thameslink and Great Northern routes, the industry timetable developed by Network Rail was very late to be finalised. That meant that train operators did not have enough time to plan crew schedules or complete crew training, affecting a range of other complex issues that impact on the service on what is already a highly congested network.
It is also clear to me that both Northern and GTR were not sufficiently prepared to manage a timetable change of this scale. GTR did not have enough drivers with the route knowledge required to operate the new timetable. Neither Northern nor GTR had a clear fall-back plan.
In GTR’s case, the process of introducing the new timetable has been overseen for the past two years by an industry readiness board, comprising some of the most senior people in the industry, which told me it had been given no information to suggest the new timetable should not be implemented as planned, albeit with some likely early issues as it bedded down. This body was set up specifically to ensure that all parts of the rail network—Network Rail, GTR, other train operators—were ready to implement these major timetable changes. It should have been clear to it that some key parties were not ready. It did not raise this risk.
The Department received advice from the Thameslink readiness board that, while there were challenges delivering the May 2018 timetable—namely, the logistics of moving fleet and staff—a three-week transition period would allow for minimal disruption. My officials were assured that the other mitigations in place were sufficient and reasonable. Indeed, as few as three weeks before the timetable was to be implemented, GTR itself assured me personally that it was ready to implement the changes. Clearly this was wrong, and that is totally unacceptable.
The rail industry has collectively failed to deliver for the passengers it serves. It is right that the industry has apologised for the situation we are currently in and that we learn the lessons for the future, but right now the focus should be on restoring the reliability of its service to passengers. This morning, I met again with chief executives of Network Rail, GTR and Northern—the latest in a series of meetings that I and my Department have been holding with these organisations—and the Rail Minister has today been to Network Rail’s control centre at its Milton Keynes headquarters. We have made it clear to them all that the current services are still not good enough. I have also demanded that Network Rail and the train operator work more collaboratively across the industry to resolve the situation, where necessary by using resources from other train operators to support the recovery effort. Officials in my Department are working around the clock to oversee this process. We have strengthened resources in both the Department and Rail North Partnership, which oversees the Northern franchise, to hold the industry to account for improving services.
I would like to be able to tell the House that there is an easy solution or that the Department could simply step in and make the problems passengers are facing go away—if there were a way of doing so, I would do it without a moment’s hesitation—but ultimately the solution can only be delivered by the rail industry. These problems can only be fixed by Network Rail and the train operators methodically working through the timetable and re-planning train paths and driver resourcing to deliver a more reliable service. It is for such reasons that I am committed to unifying the operations of track and trains, where appropriate, to ensure that we do not encounter such problems in the future.
Northern Rail has agreed an action plan with Rail North Partnership that is focused on improving driver rostering so as to get more trains running as quickly as possible; rapidly increasing driver training on new routes; providing for additional contingency drivers and management presence at key locations in Manchester; and putting extra peak services into the timetable along the Bolton corridor. Work on this action plan has been under way for some time. They have also published temporary timetables that will be more deliverable and will give passengers much more confidence in the reliability of their service. This will mean removing certain services from the new expanded timetable while still ensuring an improvement in the total number of services run by Northern compared to before the timetable change. Alternative arrangements will be made for passengers negatively impacted by the changes. I believe that this temporary measure is necessary to stabilise the service and enable improvements to be introduced gradually.
On GTR, there are more services running on a day-to-day basis today than before the timetable change, while Southern and Gatwick Express services are performing well on some routes but not all. GTR is not currently able, however, to deliver all planned services on Thameslink and Great Northern routes. In order to give passengers more confidence, it is removing services in advance from its timetable rather than on the day and reducing weekend services to pre-May levels. These measures will be in place until a full re-planning of driver resourcing has been completed.
I would like to make it clear that, while I expect to see stable timetables restored on both networks in the coming days, I expect the full May timetable and all the extra trains to be introduced in stages over the coming months to ensure it can be delivered properly this time. Once the full service is operating on GTR, 24 Thameslink trains will run through central London every hour, and by next year, 80 more stations will have direct services to central London stations such as Farringdon, City Thameslink and Blackfriars. There will also be 115 new trains and more than 1,000 new carriages providing faster, more frequent and more reliable journeys for passengers.
On Northern, the great north rail project, an investment of well over £1 billion in the region’s rail network, will enable by 2020 faster and more comfortable journeys as well as new direct services across the north and beyond. By 2020, the train operators, Northern and TransPennine Express, will deliver room for 40,000 extra passengers, and more than 2,000 extra services a week.
That, however, is the future. What matters now is restoring a stable service for passengers today. I completely understand their anger about the level of disruption that the timetable change has caused in recent weeks. There must, of course, be a special compensation scheme for passengers on affected routes on both GTR and Northern. In the case of Northern, the scheme will be subject to agreement with the board of Transport for the North, although I doubt that the board will have a problem with it. The purpose of the scheme, which will be introduced and funded by the industry, will be to ensure that regular rail customers receive appropriate redress for the disruption that they have experienced. The industry will set out more details of the eligibility requirements, and of how season ticket holders can claim, but I think it is very important for passengers—particularly in the north, where disruption has been protracted—to be given entitlements similar to those conferred by last year’s Southern passenger compensation scheme. Commuters in the north are important, as important as commuters in the south, and they should receive comparable support.
It is clear to me that, aside from Network Rail’s late finalisation of the timetable, GTR and Northern were not sufficiently prepared to manage a timetable change of this scale, so today I am also announcing that work has begun to set up an inquiry into the May timetable implementation. It will be carried out by the independent Office of Rail and Road, and chaired by Professor Stephen Glaister. It is necessary to have a full inquiry, and Professor Glaister will lead one. The inquiry will consider why the system as a whole failed to produce and implement an effective timetable. Its findings will be shared as early as possible with me and with the rail industry, so that lessons can be learnt in advance of future major timetable changes. The final report will be published by the Office of Rail Regulation by the end of the year, but I want to see initial responses much sooner than that.
In parallel to the inquiry, my Department will assess whether GTR and Northern met their contractual obligations in the planning and delivery of the timetable change. It will consider whether the issues could have been reasonably foreseen and different action taken to prevent the high levels of disruption that passengers are experiencing.
In GTR’s case, the assessment will cover whether the operator had sufficient resources and skills to deliver the new timetable and whether drivers could have been trained in a faster and more effective way, and will examine the contingency and risk management arrangements currently in place. If it is found that GTR is materially in breach of its contractual obligations, I will take appropriate enforcement action against it. That will include using the full force of the franchise agreement and my powers under the Railways Act 2005, and consideration of how such a failure affects GTR’s eligibility to hold a franchise bidding passport. In the case of Northern, my Department will assess the operator’s planning, risk assessment and resilience in preparing for the May timetable change. Bearing in mind Network Rail’s failure to deliver infrastructure on time, we will hold the operator to the terms of its contractual obligations.
I will not be afraid to take enforcement action when it is necessary, but it is right to go through the process of the inquiry and to understand where fault truly lies. I will not hold back from taking appropriate action if the review finds that there has been negligent behaviour.
Given the importance that Members throughout the House ascribe to these issues, I have arranged for both Northern and GTR to come to the House this week to discuss with colleagues any specific issues that they wish to raise with the operators. I am also meeting Members in all parts of the House today to discuss the issues with them. I am incredibly frustrated that what should have been an improvement in services for passengers has turned into significant disruption, and I am sorry about the levels of disruption that passengers are experiencing. I am also sorry for the staff members who have been caught at the sharp end of these changes.
There clearly have been major failures that have led to the situation that we are in today. I am clear about the fact that the industry must and will be held to account for this, but my immediate priority is to ensure that we improve train services to an acceptable level as quickly as possible, and that will remain my priority.'
11.6.18 Letchworth services - message to train users group
This was the situation at Letchworth this morning. There were no trains between 7.15 and 8.14, which is the golden hour for our area. I have contacted Ministers and Govia to say that this is just not acceptable at the start of week 4:
Departure Destination Status
07:00 KINGS CROSS On Time.
07:04 KINGS CROSS 7 Mins Late.
07:15 KINGS CROSS On Time.
07:50 KINGS CROSS 24 Mins Late.
08:00 KINGS CROSS On Time.
08:15 KINGS CROSS 5 Mins Late.
Dear Sir Oliver,
I just wanted to take the time to give you an overview of the service this morning from Letchworth.
The trains above all ran and called at Letchworth, including the 07:04 which is part of our revised arrangements to stop additional fast trains at Letchworth.
I apologise for the fact that the 07:34 was missing this morning, this was due an error entirely within our control room at Three Bridges.
I offer my personal assurance that all steps required to ensure this train stops tomorrow are now in place.
Customer Service Interface Manager, Govia Thameslink Railway Ltd
MP’s discussion with CEO of Govia Thameslink
I had a frank discussion with Charles Horton this morning about the unacceptable situation at the beginning of week 4 and in particular the absolute need for accurate information and reliable service during peak periods.
He said that an error in the Control Room this morning had resulted in an hour’s gap in services between 07.15 and 08.14. He acknowledged that this was not acceptable and he apologised to passengers. Action has been taken to ensure that the display boards will be more accurate, by setting them for the week rather than on a daily basis. He said that human error must be eliminated. The 07.34 should run tomorrow.
12.6.18 - Weekend trains update from GTR
We are currently working to improve the weekend provision, by simplifying the routes we operate, i.e. no services from Peterborough or Cambridge through the Core. The current pattern we are working to is:
3 Trains per hour between King's Cross to Cambridge
(1 All Stops, 1 Semi Fast and one express which will go to Kings Lynn)
2 Trains per hour between Peterborough to King's Cross
2 Trains per hour between Moorgate to Welwyn Garden City
2 Trains per hour between Moorgate to Hertford North
This base plan is what our teams work towards which should provide a generally robust service for most customer groups.
Customer Service Interface Manager, Govia Thameslink Railway Ltd
13.6.18 - MP takes up train chaos with Rail Minister again
I spoke yesterday to the Rail Minister, Jo Johnson, about the continuing unreliability on our line. He and Chris Grayling took up the concerns with Govia in a meeting yesterday afternoon.
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