Harpenden commuters call on St Albans district council to take legal action against Govia Thameslink and Department for Transport

Harpenden Train Station. Picture: DANNY LOO

Harpenden Train Station. Picture: DANNY LOO - Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO

Harpenden commuters have started a petition, imploring St Albans council to take legal action against Govia Thameslink Railway and the Department for Transport.

The petition was set up by Harpenden Thameslink Commuters following widespread disruption on Thameslink services, caused by a botched timetable change in May.

The petition reads: “The Department for Transport and Thameslink have failed to follow due process and to consult with the Harpenden commuters.

“So now, whilst we are waiting at the station, fast so-called Thamselink Express trains whizz past Harpenden and we pay £4,000 for travel into London on a sub-standard service.

“We the undersigned petition the council to take legal action against the Department for Transport and Govia Thameslink for cutting key Harpenden train services by a third and significantly increasing our journey times.”

The petition is being hosted on the St Albans council website and will close on September 6.

Harpenden lost peak-time services after East Midlands Trains stopped calling at Luton and Bedford and the Department for Transport told Thameslink to put on extra fast services to make up the difference.

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This meant stopping some services from calling at Harpenden, meaning promised improvements to the town’s railway links will now not come in until 2020.

Harpenden Thameslink Commuters’ Emily Ketchin has also written to Harpenden MP Bim Afolami and Thameslink passenger services director Stuart Cheshire following a further timetable change on July 15.

It reads: “Unfortunately, despite the commitments to improve the services of Harpenden commuters we are still to see any evidence of action to support this.”

The group has claimed the number of fast and semi-fast trains to London stopping in Harpenden during morning rush hour decreased by 42 per cent under the July timetable.

This, they say, is worse than the 37 per cent reduction under the May timetable.

Ms Ketchin says in her letter that commuters were asked to write to Mr Afolami ahead of the completion of Thameslink’s timetable changes for December, but they have been told by a Thameslink manager the December timetable had been finalised.

According to this manager, the only changes will be: the Sutton loop services will run from Luton rather than St Albans; the 18:50 Thameslink Express train will now additionally call at Harpenden from December; and the Thameslink Express stopping pattern cannot stop favouring Luton and St Albans, as Thameslink would need to consult passengers.

Ms Ketchin has asked Thameslink to confirm this, why the stopping orders cannot be changed, and what is being done to improve services at Harpenden.

A Govia Thameslink spokesman said: “Our original plans for Harpenden services, produced after a major public consultation programme, had to be amended following the announcement in late 2017 that East Midlands Trains would no longer be able to call at Bedford and Luton in the morning and evening peaks.

“The Department for Transport instructed us to provide a service that maintained capacity for Bedford and Luton, with a journey time of 47 minutes from Bedford to St Pancras. We responded by providing six fast services in the morning and evening peaks, calling at Luton and St Albans, and will continue to do so until the Midland Mainline franchise restores peak services to Bedford and Luton, or if we are otherwise instructed by the Department for Transport.”

Thameslink has also confirmed the 18.50 Express train will stop at Harpenden from December, but said the December timetable was still under review.

It could not be done any earlier because it requires altering rolling stock and train crew patterns and rosters at Bedford, they added.

They are not planning any extra trains between West Hampstead and Harpenden, due to a lack of capacity. There are currently two trains per hour during peak times and during off-peak periods there are four trains per hour, which Thameslink says represents the maximum possible.

To see the petition, visit stalbans.moderngov.co.uk/mgEPetitionDisplay.aspx?id=1000000027