Widespread cancellations and disruption have accompanied the introduction of new rail timetables, with Northern and Thameslink services particularly badly affected.
Many commuters who had altered their normal routines for rescheduled trains arrived at stations on Monday morning only to find services cancelled.
Train companies have yet to confirm the exact number of delays and cancellations, but around one in four Thameslink trains due to run through central London in rush hour appear to have been cancelled on Monday morning, after Britain’s largest commuter franchise, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), introduced an entirely redrawn timetable on Sunday.
Passengers waiting for Northern trains appeared to fare even worse, with swathes of the morning schedule connecting towns around Manchester disrupted, and the majority of trains at key hubs such as the city’s Oxford Road delayed or cancelled at peak times. Around one in seven trains across the Northern network were cancelled and one in six delayed.
Timetable shakeup – what will the changes mean?
Why is this rail timetable change significant?
New timetables are published every year but normally with minor tweaks. This year Govia Thameslink Railway, which carries about 500,000 passengers daily, has redrawn its schedules from scratch.
Why has it done that?
The rebuilding of London Bridge and surrounding track infrastructure, new trains, and new infrastructure allowing partial automation means more services can run through the capital, carrying more passengers. Some can be rerouted to cut journey times, while others will stop at new stations offering more direct services.
So is it a good thing?
Overall, it should be: GTR believes it will use its capacity more efficiently. About 400 more trains will run, with space for 50,000 more people to travel into London in the morning peak.
What’s the problem?
While the new timetable should benefit a greater number, many people have built their work and family routines around a particular train.
Removing or rescheduling services could make some existing commutes untenable without flexible work starts or childcare, passenger groups say, or force some into taking more expensive peak trains. For a month-long transitional period, services will be reduced at some stations. And engineering work means some commuter towns have fewer trains until 2020.
Where are the changes coming?
Every train on the GTR service will run at a new time: that includes Thameslink trains between Bedford and Brighton; Great Northern trains from London into Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire; Southern services from Sussex and parts of Surrey, Kent and Hampshire to the capital.
How do I know if I’m affected?
Passengers should check their train times at National Rail’s website
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Manchester, tweeted that the transport secretary, Chris Grayling “needs to intervene – today”. Burnham had demanded an investigation into poor service on Northern last week, even before the problems escalated on Monday.
The Wigan MP Lisa Nandy also tweeted about the chaos, saying of Northern: “This franchise is failing and must be removed.”
Northern’s new timetable problems have been compounded by issues over industrial relations, with a further RMT strike linked to the role of guards due this week.
Some drivers have refused to work rest days, meaning some of the logistical work to put trains in place appears not to have been carried out.
The drivers’ union Aslef said Northern had not heeded its calls to train enough staff in time. “Drivers are not on a go-slow, they are not calling in sick, but they just have not been trained on the new routes.”
A Northern spokesman indicated that cancellations were likely to continue this week. He said: “It has been a difficult morning for some of our customers, in particular on a number of routes around north Manchester extending up to Blackpool, and we are very sorry for the delays and cancellations they have experienced.”
He said the firm was introducing 1,300 train services a week across its network, which remained “a significant operational challenge”, and more disruption could happen “at very short notice”.
GTR apologised for the disruption, which it said was due to trains and drivers being redeployed to make the timetable work, but it said passengers were benefiting immediately from an overall increase in capacity.
A spokesperson said: “We are implementing over the coming weeks the biggest timetable change in a generation to boost capacity and improve reliability, introducing 400 extra daily trains and space for 50,000 extra passengers in the peak.”
He said anyone delayed for more than 15 minutes could claim compensation through the GTR website.
The changes are meant to capitalise on the £7bn invested in the Thameslink programme, including rebuilding London Bridge station. GTR believes the timetable, finalised after two years of consultation, best reflects where services are needed and extends stop times at busier stations to tackle unrealistic scheduling.
However, many commuters have been upset by changes to the timetable, irrespective of the disruption. Kevin Mcnulty, a 55-year-old from Southwick in West Sussex who commutes to London Bridge, said: “We were promised more trains. Instead there are less and they take longer. I used to get the 6.54am, change at Hove and was in London for 8.16am. Now I have two choices that take longer: with the 6.12am I arrive too early and the 7.12am arrives too late. Though expectations are very low among commuters, we are still very cross.”
Julia Day, a marketing director from Brighton, found her service into London Victoria no longer stopped at Clapham Junction between 5.30am and 10am. “My journey to Putney now involves three trains for a journey that I could do previously in one hour and 10 minutes. My weekly ticket costs £100.50 so I’m fuming.”
However, other passengers have noticed a benefit. Peter O’Callaghan, from Deptford in south London, said of his commute to Regent’s Park: “The new Thameslink service to Luton that stops at Deptford has knocked at least 20 minutes off my journey. I’m very happy.”
Robert Nisbet, of the Rail Delivery Group, an industry body, said: “In the long term these changes will see customers in many parts of the country benefit from more and faster services.”
Anthony Smith, the chief executive of Transport Focus, a passenger watchdog, said: “Let’s hope these teething problems disappear. For most passengers it means more seats. It’s all happening for the right reasons.”
Engineering overruns have caused additional timetabling problems, and some promised Thameslink services will not run until 2020.
The RMT union’s general secretary, Mick Cash, said: “The union is picking up reports from both Northern and GTR of a hopeless lack of planning, combined with a shortage of crew and fleet, which has reduced the Monday morning journey to a nightmare for many passengers. It is our members dealing with the anger at the sharp end, not the well-paid top brass from Arriva owner of Northern and Govia.”