Rail boss confident of new December timetable changes

Stuart Cheshire

Stuart Cheshire - Credit: Archant

The face of Govia Thameslink Railway has pledged a return to the service levels which existed before the timetable chaos which kicked off in May.

Speaking ahead of today’s introduction of a new timetable, passenger services director Stuart Cheshire said the train operator was feeling far more confident about these changes than the ones introduced in the spring, which saw severe delays, overcrowding and cancellations on the Thameslink line.

Stuart revealed: “In the build-up to this timetable we’ve had the chance to do everything that we should have done in May to develop this one far more efficiently.

“We’ve now managed to get the drivers in the right place, we’ve created several new depots, we’ve got 80 more drivers than we had in May, and we’ve put the drivers much closer to the start-up positions of the trains, which has allowed a far more efficient development of the [drivers’ work schedules].

“Last time round we had a very late offer back from Network Rail which fundamentally put the drivers in the wrong place for start-up. That’s not occurred this time round so we’re far more confident that the drivers are in the right place for kick-off.”

Additional services for St Albans and Harpenden from December 10 will see the following:

St Albans: One fast and four semi-fasts in the morning peak; one fast, four stoppers in the evening peak.

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Harpenden: one fast and four semi-fasts in the morning peak; two fasts and four stoppers in theeveningPM peak.

Thameslink is also lengthening two busy services from eight to 12 carriage: the 07.34/07.40 fast service from Harpenden/St Albans and the fast 17.10 from St Pancras back to St Albans and Harpenden.

Stuart responded to criticism about reduced services calling at Harpenden: “They’ve got one additional train in the morning, there’s one additional train in the evening, and there’s also a fast train that leaves St Pancras at about 6.50 which will now call at Harpenden. There will be extra stops put into that train to recognise that journey time is an issue.

“Putting the East Midland services back into Bedford, which would solve everybody’s problems, is a Department of Transport call. Personally I’d support that, and I think the lobbying should be towards the rail minister.

He explained how the previous chaos occurred: “What went on prior to the delivery of the May timetable was that once we got [the timetable] back from Network Rail the whole industry was doing its best to solve its own problems in isolation. We didn’t really understand the full impact of the timetable before we’d run it through our systems and processes, and it really didn’t throw up any massive alarm bells until very close to the day of the race.

“It was far too late to revert back to what would have been the initial timetable because the thousands and thousands of changes that were happening nationally were tied into every other train operator. The late return only affected Northern and us, and that’s where the problem was.

“Those eight weeks were the worst I’ve ever seen in terms of rail service delivery, but [the revised timetable of] July 15, which we used those eight weeks to develop, was a far more reliable and efficient product. What we’re moving to in December is the delivery of the full May timetable as it should have been, having been allowed the time we should have had the first time round to develop it. We are in a position to give me a level of confidence around the December offering that we never had in May.”

Referring again to the problems experienced earlier this year, he added: “It was an incredibly tough time for passengers and staff and I just want to thank everybody for their patience.

“What I do hope that we demonstrate by our delivery in December is that we’ve learned our lessons from May and we hope we haven’t bitten off more than we can chew. It’s a step by step reintroduction of services now to get ourselves re-established and try and build some confidence back into the brand that we had before the May timetable.

“We were top performers just prior to then and the hard work that we’ve put in has definitely born some fruits since July, and we just want to make sure we don’t lose that.”