Rail timetable changes scaled back to avoid further chaos

Commuters in a train station looking at the arrivals boardImage source, Alamy

A rail timetable overhaul planned for December has been scaled back amid fears of a repeat of the chaos seen in May when a new schedule was introduced.

Timetable changes for eight franchises, including Govia Thameslink Railway and Northern, whose operations descended into chaos in May, have been postponed.

Other franchises will introduce only minor timetable changes in December.

Industry body The Rail Delivery Group said the "more cautious approach" took into account "recent painful lessons".

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, said: "In parts of the country, many people have suffered unacceptable disruption following the introduction of the new timetable in May for which we are sincerely sorry.

"The industry is determined to learn the lessons from what went wrong."

He said train operators would focus on making sure passengers received a "reliable service" in December.

The operators which will not make changes to their existing timetable in December are Cross Country, Govia, Thameslink Railway, Great Western Railway, London Overground, Northern, South Western Railway (SWR), TransPennine Express and West Midlands Trains.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
In May, the time of every Govia Thameslink was changed

In May, what was billed as the biggest ever overhaul of rail timetables led to widespread rail disruption.

The overhaul was aimed at improving punctuality and boosting capacity, but instead led to a huge number of train services being cancelled or severely delayed.

The Transport Select Committee is investigating the reasons behind the disruption and is asking for evidence from passengers and as well as rail industry groups.

The committee's chair, Lilian Greenwood, said May's timetable change caused "upset and distress".

"Before we look at steps taken to improve the situation and compensation, we want to hear the experiences of passengers themselves. I strongly encourage them to engage with us via the Committee's Twitter account or submit written evidence to our inquiry."

Stability needed

Train timetables are usually changed twice a year, in summer and winter, but normally on a much smaller scale.

The Rail Delivery Group said December's changes would now be on a similar scale to "the smaller changes of recent years".

South Western Railway said it was "disappointed" that it would not be going ahead with its "major timetable change" in December, which would have led to more capacity.

The decision was taken "at a national level that a period of stability is needed", it added.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of passenger watchdog Transport Focus, said the timetable announcement was a "pragmatic step to help maintain a more dependable service".

But he warned that "long-suffering passengers who have put up with much inconvenience... will be disappointed that promised improvements may be delivered more slowly".