Turn up and (maybe) go: timetable problems persist….

29 June 2018

The weekend looms
As the weekend approaches, where are we on the great timetable crisis?

Northern has become more reliable and oddly, in a seemingly parallel universe, the rest of the network has generally been running OK. The large-scale Southern and Gatwick Express timetable changes went well. Many passengers will have noticed nothing. However, those affected have noticed a lot.

Thameslink and Great Northern, which between them carry a huge number of passengers, have yet to stabilise. July 15 sees an interim timetable finally introduced. Short-notice cancellations, poor performance and patchy information are the side effects of a system out of kilter. Who knows when we passengers will see the full, promised, timetable that we’ve been paying for in advance for years.

Return of (scheduled) trains to the Lakes Line
After Northern’s suspension of services on the Lakes Line between Oxenholme and Windermere a replacement bus was put in. Then a charter train was also organised by local MP Tim Farron and the energetic chair of the local user group Robert Talbot. Northern trains return on Monday July 2nd.

Keen to understand how this was working for locals and visitors we had a researcher there, talking to passengers, this week. While the sun helps it all seems to have worked well and has had an energising effect – maybe a blueprint for future services on that sort of branch line? It also acts a brilliant case study of replacement services for a very varied group of passengers. See our report.

Back to predictable unpredictability?
It seems odd to think we are getting back to where we were on May 19. In other words, an industry that is still have difficulty publishing some timetables more than six weeks in advance. These ongoing problems continue to have a sapping effect on passengers all around the country.

At the weekend I was talking to someone who organises tours where guests often want to travel by train. He can’t sell tours if he can’t find out well in advance if trains will be running. So, he hires some coaches, goes through real hassle having to take temporary booking until timings are confirmed and, worst of all, has had to cancel some tours.

A passenger travelled from Peterborough to Ipswich on Sunday morning. He had an epic journey because the first train was so late. It involved two replacement buses – while on one of them, he could actually see the supposedly-cancelled train running! People were ringing their employers from the coach and at stations saying they would be late – this is having real impact on people’s lives.

My colleague who comes in from Streatham on the Wimbledon Loop Thameslink services in South London has had days and days of not being able to get to work as huge gaps appear in the timetable and the later trains are so crowded she, eight months pregnant, cannot risk the journey.

Our advice is always complain – make your voice heard. But what about many people who simply don’t travel? A contract is still in existence, but the train company has not fulfilled their part of the offer by running a train. Also, the useful Delay Repay kicks in after 15 minutes but that should not stop you complaining if you are 14 minutes late especially if it happens repeatedly.

Who is in charge? Who takes responsibility?
This question has arisen hundreds of times in recent weeks. The answer is everyone and no-one. The rail industry, governments, staff and unions all bear some responsibility but no single person is totally at fault.

While welcome investment is being made all over the country, there is an enduring feeling that no-one is in overall charge. Passengers tell us they want a clear sense of who is in charge of their service. Has the time come again to put one person clearly in charge of the whole system? They wouldn’t have to own or run every cog in that system, but would provide the much-needed overview to make sure the cogs mesh in future. Otherwise, fares will continue to rise and passengers will make other transport choices.

Like the blog? Please share on your social channels.