Rail firms ‘must have contingency plans’ for Sunday timetable change

Train companies must have a “robust contingency plan” in case Sunday’s timetable change leads to a repeat of last year’s meltdown, public transport campaigners have warned.

Travellers are being urged to check departure times as rail firms across Britain introduce their summer timetables to enable the introduction of 1,000 extra services per week.

It is one of two major timetable changes which take place each year.

The change last May led to weeks of disruption on large parts of the network, with the number of trains cancelled each day by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and Northern reaching up to 470 and 310 respectively.

GTR was fined £5 million by the rail regulator over its poor communication during the fiasco.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) found that the company “failed to provide appropriate, accurate and timely information” to passengers for an eight-week period.

Govia Thameslink Railway
Govia Thameslink Railway (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Darren Shirley, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “The railway has a long way to go to win back passenger confidence, but we hope that the lessons of last year have been learnt and the introduction of the new timetable on Sunday will improve people’s perceptions of the railways, rather than further damaging them.

“In the event that things do go wrong, we would expect the rail industry to have a robust contingency plan so that passengers aren’t left stranded again.”

Among the operators adding extra services are South Western Railway, GTR, Northern, Scotrail and Transport for Wales.

Industry body the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) insisted lessons have been learned from last year, adding that train companies and Network Rail have worked together to ensure changes are only being made where there is a “high confidence” that the necessary infrastructure, rolling stock and staffing plans are ready.

RDG chief executive Paul Plummer said: “Introducing 1,000 more services a week to meet demand on a congested network poses a significant challenge but we are working together to ensure improvements
are introduced with the absolute minimum of disruption.”

Chris Grayling
Chris Grayling (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

A series of failures were blamed for causing the problems last May, including Network Rail’s delayed electrification projects in the North and late approval of the new timetables, poor planning by train operators and the decision by transport ministers to phase in the introduction of new GTR services.

GTR chief executive Charles Horton announced his resignation after the disruption.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was criticised after an ORR investigation found there was a “lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities” and “nobody took charge”.

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