December rail timetable changes

15 November 2022

New rail timetables start on 11 December. What will this mean for passengers?

In some instances, the changes will add extra services, in others it’s more about changing timings to ensure a more reliable service, and in places it will also be about aligning services with the number of passengers travelling following the pandemic.

Making changes to timetables is fraught with difficulty. Many people have come to rely on a specific departure time or stopping pattern, while others may feel that the timetable doesn’t deliver what they want. It’s rarely possible to please everyone.

But no timetable can ever be set in stone. Passengers have changed their travel patterns since the pandemic – we are now seeing much more leisure travel and less commuting. There are huge financial pressures on the railway. And there is a continuing need to improve punctuality and reliability – something all our insight shows is key to passenger satisfaction.

So, change is inevitable this December. The immediate priority is that the timetables actually work as planned. Passengers have to be able to rely on the timetable, and if any issues arise it will be important that the railway gets on top of them quickly. We will be closely watching events following the 11 December change.

How the railway approaches timetable changes matters, especially when major changes are being considered and long-established journey patterns are evolving. It is important to consult passengers and to explain why changes are being planned, how many people will be affected, and what is being done to mitigate issues. Crucially, consultation also gives people the chance to have their say on how it might affect them. We believe that building this transparency in from the outset not only leads to better decisions, but it is also a visible demonstration of putting passengers first – a central theme of the Plan for Rail. Not consulting or engaging can lead to accusations of being a producer-led railway – the very thing we all want to avoid.

South Western Railway was among those who did consult on December plans. The responses may not have been a comfortable read for the industry at times, but the consultation gave passengers a better understanding of why changes were being made and a chance to have their say.

Southeastern trains is attracting a backlash right now because it did not consult. Its new timetable is designed to boost punctuality, provide a more consistent timetable throughout the day and to provide space on trains where it is needed most – all important things to passengers. However, passengers on some metro routes will lose through services to Charing Cross, with trains serving Cannon Street instead and vice versa. This means that some passengers will now have to change at London Bridge if they want to go to Waterloo East or Charing Cross. London Bridge is an accessible station with lifts to platforms, but this will add to journey time, stress and is another hurdle for disabled passengers or others travelling with children or carrying luggage. Of course, some who currently change at London Bridge may no longer need to.

We have been in discussion with Southeastern about this. We understand that the proposals took time to finalise, partly due to fluctuating levels of demand post-pandemic, and that this meant that there wasn’t time to consult in a meaningful way. We are also told that it is too late to change the decision, but that Southeastern is still keen to get feedback on the changes – the easiest way to do this being via this form. Any comments will help inform future planning.

In the meantime, it is important that Southeastern continues to explain how and why it made the decision – what data it was based on and what benefits it will bring – and acknowledge the impact on people who lose out. Once implemented London TravelWatch and Transport Focus will be monitoring performance and how well any changes are meeting passenger needs. Southeastern has assured us it will look at any issues identified.

The railway is facing tough decisions in the coming months – not just on timetables. Consulting customers on these wider issues may add time and cost to the process but we believe that it ultimately leads to better outcomes and a better relationship with passengers. There are also costs in firefighting and of reputational damage when there is a backlash about lack of prior consultation. Transport Focus will continue to argue for the passenger voice to be heard when major decisions are being made that affect them.

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