Harpenden Thameslink Commuters group give evidence to House of Commons

PUBLISHED: 12:00 13 September 2018

Emily Ketchin at the Transport Select Committee inquiry. Picture: Parliament.tv

Emily Ketchin at the Transport Select Committee inquiry. Picture: Parliament.tv

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A Harpenden commuter has gone to the House of Commons to detail the impact of the Thameslink timetabling chaos.

Due to a botched timetable change in May, Govia Thameslink Railway customers have suffered delays, overcrowding and cancellations at stations across the region, prompting the House of Commons Transport Select Committee to launch an inquiry into what went wrong with the timetable change.

On Wednesday, September 5, Harpenden Thameslink Commuters group’s Emily Ketchin gave evidence to the inquiry and said: “I set the group up about five months ago as a direct result of the fact that, even if the May 20 timetable was delivered, Harpenden was losing a third of its key services without consultation. Then, of course, we had the May 20 timetable not being delivered.

“In my mind, there are a number of impacts. There is the obvious financial impact of extra childcare costs and taxis. We know people have left their work in London because they feel the commute is not viable.

“There has been a significant health and safety impact, particularly affecting commuters from Harpenden. In light of the changes that have been made to Harpenden trains, we are now forced to change at St Albans and St Albans is not designed as an interchange station. There is significant confusion.

“A couple of days after the May timetable was introduced, there was an accident at Harpenden train station and no trains for 30 minutes. There was a platform alteration so people were running to get on to the trains and a gentleman tripped over. He took out another passenger and an ambulance had to be called. There is an obvious health and safety impact.

“What is really difficult for me to talk about is the human impact of the timetable and that is not quantifiable. I am late for picking up children and miss bedtimes. People have been sick on overcrowded trains.

“It is very difficult to assess the additional stress. For me, the best illustration of that was my daughter’s sports day. I allowed two and a quarter hours to get to there, for a journey that should have taken me an hour. I turned up at the school in a rush. I fell over in the car park. It was one of those disastrous days that you expect. I got there at 1.27pm, and sports day started at 1.30pm. The level of stress I encountered that day is very difficult to convey.

“I am not the only one. There was a broken-down train in the core at about six in the morning. I turned up at the station at 6.30am and was talking to a mum about the fact she had nearly missed her son’s school play. She missed the beginning, but had managed to walk in just as he got on stage.”

The May timetable change was necessitated as East Midlands Trains cut stops at Bedford and Luton from their peak time services, so the Department for Transport ordered Govia to put on the Thameslink Express replacement trains.

After the May timetable went wrong, an interim timetable was introduced in July to mitigate the disruption, which Ms Ketchin reckons has affected around 10.5m people.

She said: “The May 20 timetable was never actually delivered. We then got an interim, or July 15, timetable, which saw our services cut even further. That is a concern, because when you are looking at the Thameslink statistics and they talk about 84 per cent of services being run: 84 per cent of what? We have gone from 19 trains down to 12 and then down to 11, and they are running 84 per cent of trains on a given day. Frankly, I do not think that is good enough.”

As Thameslink were already part of the way through another consultation, they did not consult on the May timetable.

Ms Ketchin said: “That lack of consultation has been conceded, and rightly so, by the Department for Transport to our local MP, Mr Bim Afolami. Mr Johnson, the Rail Minister, explained that it was not viable and there was not enough time to consult on the Harpenden train cuts.

“My view is it sets a very dangerous precedent if ministers can select when franchisees can and cannot consult. The obligation to consult is absolute.

“There was a viable alternative. The Thameslink Express trains should have a different stopping pattern that better matches passenger needs. Instead of five, five, zero, it should have been three Luton, three Harpenden and four St Albans.

“It is disingenuous to suggest there was no other viable option. It is really important the commuters’ voice is not taken away and dangerous precedents like that are set.”

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