Herts Advertiser investigation: Train service worse for St Albans and Harpenden passengers under Thameslink compared to First Capital Connect

Thameslink train

Thameslink train - Credit: Archant

The district’s train service has dramatically worsened in the past year under new franchise holder Govia Thameslink, a Herts Advertiser investigation can reveal.

An analysis of performance statistics for the Thameslink Mainline Bedford to Brighton service show a sharp decline in all key performance areas since the operator took over from First Capital Connect in September 2014.

Not only has performance deteriorated, it is also significantly worse than the national average.

The seven-year Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) franchise announced the previous May included a commitment from Govia to provide nearly 1,400 new electric carriages and invest millions in station improvements across the overall network.

However, while performance across other parts of the network have improved, the Thameslink service, which calls at Harpenden, St Albans and Radlett, are subject to more delays and cancellations, figures released following a Freedom of Information request reveal.

The public performance measure (PPM) – the proportion of commuting trains arriving at the terminating station within five minutes of their scheduled time – averaged just 70.4 per cent across the period from September 2014 to June 2015.

This compares to a PPM of 83.3 per cent for the same period of the previous year and a national average of 89.6 per centfor the first quarter of 2014/15.

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Under First Group, the PPM reached a high of 91.3 per cent in 2011/12 before decline along with national trends in each of the following years.

Train performances across the UK as a whole had declined from an average PPM score of more than 92 per cent in 2012 to 88 per cent in 2014/15.

PPM is used as the national standard for comparing train services; however Network Rail also publishes other statistics, which further highlight the problems on the Thameslink line.

The proportion of trains cancelled or significantly delayed (CaSL) on the service from September 2014 to June 2015 – those that arrive more than 30 minutes late at their terminating station, or fail to stop at a scheduled station – was 8.7 per cent, considerably worse than the national average of 2.9 per cent.

The number of trains arriving at the “right time” – under a minute later than their scheduled time – was 53.4 per cent compared to a national average of 64.2 per cent.

It may surprise those who regularly bemoan the train operator when delayed, that most disruptions to services are attributed to Network Rail. The state-owned company, which is responsible for maintaining and improving the nation’s train network, accounts for 59 per cent of all delays across the UK, which includes issues such as overrunning engineering works, signalling faults as well as vandalism and weather conditions.

In comparison 28 per cent of delays nationally were caused by the operator itself and a further 13 per cent caused by other operators.

A spokesperson for Govia Thameslink Railway, which runs Thameslink, said: “The punctuality of our services has not been good and we apologise sincerely to our passengers for this.

“Three months after we took over the franchise, work began in earnest rebuilding London Bridge, removing one of the tracks Southern uses into the station. That increased congestion on the Brighton Mainline to such an extent that delays caused for whatever reason now have a far greater impact across the network, including on services at St Albans.

“Working with Network Rail we have made changes to the timetable in a bid to address this – the latest was this week – and on December 14 a vastly rewritten timetable will even out off-peak services putting us in a better position to deliver more punctual trains in the evening rush hour. But it won’t be until 2017 that we will be given back the additional track and added capacity we really need at London Bridge.

“Our Joint Improvement Plan with Network Rail also focuses on the reliability of track, power and signalling systems together with GTR’s driver recruitment and training programme. This is UK’s largest such scheme and is needed to provide enough drivers to release others for the significant amount of training required to deliver new trains and new routes to give passengers better services. It takes a year to train each driver but by doubling the number of trainers and tripling the number of courses, we have brought in 31 new drivers this year with 34 more in training and more still to follow.”


Passenger satisfaction has also fallen in five key areas under the new franchise.

We analysed satisfaction rates recorded for the line by Transport Focus overall and in four other areas and how they changed between Spring 2015 and under previous operator First Group in spring 2014 and Spring 2011.

The line has seen a drop in overall satisfaction which was 73 per cent of people satisfied in spring 2015 (compared to 80 per cent in both 2014 and 2011). When looking at key areas, satisfaction also fell for punctuality, (58 per cent in 2015, 72 per cent in 2014 and 75 per cent in 2011), value for money (35 per cent, 38 per cent, 30 per cent), train frequency (74 per cent, 79 per cent, 77 per cent) and upkeep and repair of trains (57 per cent, 58 per cent, 62 per cent).

Linda McCord, of independent transport user watchdog Transport Focus, said: “Passengers tell us their biggest priorities for improvement are better value for money fares, being able to get a seat on the train, service frequency and punctuality.”


Poor performance does not appear to have stopped passengers from using the railways, latest figures would suggest.

Office of Rail and Road statistics show that passenger numbers increased year-on-year at Harpenden, Radlett and St Albans City stations.

For 2013/14, the most recent period the figures are available, the number of journeys coming and going were 3.182m for Harpenden (3.126m in 2012/13), 1.139m for Radlett (1.109m) and 7.157m for St Albans City (6.887m).

St Albans Abbey did see a fall however, from 194,000 in 2012/13 to 180,000 a year later.

The GTR/Network Rail Improvement Plan can be downloaded here with the latest November update available here.