Passengers need reliable services and meaningful compensation, David Sidebottom considers the recent timetable difficulties
Unprecedented delays, confusion and cancellations have made life miserable in recent weeks for many Northern, Thameslink and Great Northern passengers. Since the introduction of the new timetable on May 20, passengers have suffered frustrating disruption. Almost half of Britain’s rail services were rescheduled, and passengers were affected right across the rail network.
Transport Focus warned about timetabling problems as long ago as last year. The rail industry responded by temporarily shortening timetable advance publication but assured us that the problems were being dealt with.
Despite strong assurances to us and others that the industry was prepared, these welcome investments and potential improvements have gone sour. Continuing poor performance has eroded passengers’ trust in the railway. To start rebuilding that trust we want to see an honest, realistic plan that leads to a return of reliable services. Passengers will welcome an inquiry into what happened but first and foremost passengers want stable timetables and reliable services.
We’ve continued to call for compensation for poor service, measured against the original timetable promised not the slimmed down one now on offer.
Northern’s temporary timetable removed 165 trains each day, which bought time to get the driver training finished. We are calling for the operator to offer passengers Delay Repay compensation against the timetable which should have been running.
And it’s not just about Delay Repay. Compensation must recognise the human impact – the extent of the disruption to people’s lives. This includes the many passengers who don’t buy season tickets – irregular travellers or flexible workers who have still paid for a service they simply did not receive.
All passengers should claim what they are owed and send a strong message to operators that this level of service is unacceptable.
The whole rail industry needs to pull together to help passengers through this crisis, lift ticket restrictions and help passengers regardless of which train company they need to use. We are pushing to make these things happen on behalf of passengers and are continuing to help more passengers with their complaints to train companies.
A few stories that have been flooding in illustrate the impact. One woman in East Anglia took a day’s leave to drive her daughter to college for her A level exams – they weren’t confident the trains would run properly during this timetable chaos.
A South Yorkshire passenger with mobility problems has been putting off a visit to their elderly father in West Cumbria. It can be a three-train trip and they explained: ‘It’s been a while since I was last up there and I’m supposed to be going to see him shortly. However, I’m putting off my trip: each time I look at the live times on Northern’s mobile app I see lots of trains either cancelled, partially cancelled or delayed. I’m not willing to take the risk of getting stranded miles from where I need to be.’
Eight-months-pregnant Abi had a four-hour trek home from Huntingdon that included a slow crawl on a coach to Hitchin. The journey should have taken 55 mins on Thameslink, and then another hour from Finsbury Park to South London.
So, what can we do about it? We’ve been monitoring service levels and are out and about speaking to passengers. We’ve mobilised our Transport User Panel to provide feedback on people’s experience, and of course people engage with us on Twitter too.
Some of the passengers most affected by the interim timetable are on the line between Windermere and Oxenholme in Cumbria. We have set up a bespoke survey to monitor people’s experience on rail replacement buses.
We got Govia Thameslink to relax ticket restrictions so that passengers can get the first train that’s going to where they want to be. Passengers with tickets normally valid on Southern or Thameslink only can now use the Gatwick Express.
Our National Rail Passenger Survey will help gauge passenger reaction once the changes have settled down.
We’ll continue gathering feedback from passengers and monitoring the impact on the ground, while pushing the industry to get stable interim timetables in place and to provide decent compensation.
Passengers rely on the basic delivery of the timetable, length of trains and information during delays. It’s time a stable timetable is achieved for passengers once again.
David Sidebottom is Passenger Director at Transport Focus