Harpenden commuter group demands action from Transport Secretary on Thameslink timetable changes

Harpenden commuters are unhappy about new timetable changes.

Harpenden commuters are unhappy about new timetable changes. - Credit: Archant

A newly-formed train user group has written to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling demanding action on controversial Thameslink timetable changes.

Harpenden Thameslink Commuter Group has acted ahead of changes in May which will see fewer services calling at the town’s station during peak times. These will replace East Midlands Trains services that will no longer call at Bedford and Luton during those periods.

Group leader Emily Ketchin said: “We are bitterly disappointed by Thameslink. Their lack of transparency and accountability is truly shocking.

“Thameslink’s rhetoric is we will only lose one train in peak time, but all trains will be 12 coaches. The reality is far different with 52 fewer carriages on fast trains and that is at a time when we have to accommodate the extra 2,000 passengers as a result of East Midland Mainline no longer stopping at Bedford or Luton.

“There isn’t enough room on the trains as it is. If these changes go ahead we really will know the meaning of cattle class and we just won’t be able to juggle city careers with child care options.

“The new timetable will have a drastic impact, with many of us facing getting to work later and not getting home on time to see our children. Over-crowding on the trains will be even worse.”

Representatives of the rail operator attended a public meeting to explain the changes, as did Harpenden MP Bim Afolami, who is meeting with Mr Grayling. The group has disputed figures from the Association of Public Transport Users, which said there will be four fewer services a day stopping at Harpenden in the morning and evening peaks. Instead the group are arguing there will be seven fewer services in the morning and one fewer in the evening, but longer journey times.

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Mr Afolami has now secured a parliamentary debate on the service cuts on April 18.

Emily added: “We are pleased the cuts - made after a fare rise and without consultation - as required by the Franchise Agreement - are being raised at the highest level in Parliament.

“We anxiously await the outcome of the debate.”

Commuter Josephine Mitchie said: “For years Thameslink has been promising Harpenden services would improve. They put up our fares knowing our services would be cut. That is scandalous.”

The letter to Mr Grayling reads: “The proposed changes have been introduced without any consultation, significantly reducing the frequency and capacity of the service between Harpenden and London and are contrary to commitments made to Harpenden residents about the service which would be provided following the completion of the Thameslink Project. As such the changes are unacceptable.

“The reduction in frequency will hit working parents, many of whom are women, particularly hard, at a time where much of government policy is intended to encourage and help women to be economically active.

“I am asking you to order Thameslink to reverse these changes and to intervene in this most serious of issues. At the recent meeting, hosted by Bim Afolami MP, Thameslink stated the reduction was a direct result of instructions given to it by your department, although was unable to provide us with actual details of said instructions.”

The group is also looking into whether these changes breach the Thameslink Franchise Agreement.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We have received a letter from the Harpenden Thameslink Commuter Group and will respond to the group in due course.

“The Thameslink Programme represents a once in a generation opportunity to deliver more capacity. Commuters will see temporary changes as these improvements are carried out, but from May passengers will begin to see more frequent Thameslink trains, to more destinations, and from 2020 the Midland Line Upgrade will mean longer trains giving passengers around 50 per cent more seats in the peak into London.”

The Thameslink Programme is a government-sponsored project to connect services to Crossrail and install 115 new trains, while the Midland Line Upgrade is the electrification of the railway between Bedford and Corby.

GTR’s head of strategic planning Phil Hutchinson said: “Although the pattern of Harpenden’s services through the day is changing slightly in May, overall capacity is increasing, especially at the busiest times.

“For instance, there are currently 10 trains from Harpenden arriving at St Pancras between 0800 and 0900. From May until December, there will be nine trains in this period, but with a total of four more carriages; and from December there will be 10 trains again, providing a total of 16 more carriages.

“In the evening between 1700 and 1900, from May there will be two more Harpenden services leaving St Pancras for Harpenden, and many trains will be longer, making a very significant increase of 44 carriages in total.

“We will be responding directly to the Harpenden Thameslink Commuter Group’s letter with more detail.

“We’re modernising the railway, bringing huge improvements for passengers on much of the route. St Albans, for example, will have over 3,000 extra seats in the morning peak and the same again home in the evening; Bedford will have over 2,000 more and over 3,000 year on year at Luton.

“Unfortunately the changes to East Midlands Trains’ timetable, and the request for us to mitigate this by fast-tracking some of our Bedford services, means that the improvements on this scale for Harpenden won’t now be realised until 2020 when the route modernisation programme north of Bedford is complete.”