St Albans council wants pre-May Thameslink timetable back

St Albans council offices.

St Albans council offices. - Credit: Archant

Train operator Thameslink has been urged to return the district’s rail timetable to what it was before disruption engulfed services in May.

A Govia Thameslink Railway train. Picture: Govia Thameslink

A Govia Thameslink Railway train. Picture: Govia Thameslink - Credit: Archant

Commuters have suffered cancellations, delays and overcrowding on trains calling at stations in St Albans district since the timetable change, which Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) has been accused of not properly preparing for and which also led to a reduction in trains calling at Harpenden.

Major disruptions continued until July, when a new timetable was introduced, yet commuter groups argue the service should return to the pre-May timetable to bring services back up to the level they were before the chaos.

In a report to the Transport Select Committee, the leaders of St Albans district council’s four main parties have joined these calls and recommended GTR “restore the pre-May 20 frequency of peak-time fast services from Harpenden to West Hampstead Thameslink and London St Pancras International”.

The report reads: “Prior to the May 20 timetable, Harpenden was served by a total of 23 trains, with 19 of these being fast or semi-fast (35 minutes or under from Harpenden to St Pancras).

“However, this number was reduced to 18 trains (12 fast or semi-fast) before a further reduction to 15 trains (11 fast or semi-fast).

“One major consequence of this has been overcrowding on a daily basis with many commuters forced to stand for 35 minutes and upwards, resulting in a number of health and safety incidents.”

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Their report quotes several commuters who have experienced disruption in their personal lives as a consequence of the disruption in their commuting lives.

One such commuter is quoted as saying: “The decision to downgrade Harpenden services means I am losing an hour of travel time each day.

“This represents a 50 per cent increase in journey time and a personal loss of 20 per cent of my time with family during the week.

“I don’t want to move from the home I love, but unless services are restored I have little option. I am saddened and angry about the situation in equal measure.”

The report says GTR must allow sufficient time to consult passengers on timetable changes and leave time to implement further changes.

Commuter groups have long complained about the lack of proper consultation on the May 20 timetable which caused so much disruption.

GTR did not run a full consultation on the May timetable changes as they learnt about them halfway through a separate consultation on a previous set of timetable changes.

“The changes referred to above that had an adverse impact on Harpenden were presented as a fait accompli in very late 2017, when there was no time for a re-work to improve the service,” according to the report.

These changes came about because East Midlands Trains decided to stop calling at Bedford and Luton during peak time.

As a consequence, the Department for Transport ordered GTR to put on fast trains from Bedford and Luton, which GTR managed by leaving out Harpenden from the train’s stops.

The council report reads: “The omission of Harpenden needs to be revisited as a matter of urgency..

“If these trains were to make an additional stop at Harpenden this would help to alleviate some of the problems, most notably overcrowding. It would also reduce interchanging at St Albans station and resultant overcrowding.”

Both St Albans and Harpenden have experienced reductions in service, the report argues, as Harpenden lost four trains under the July timetable, while St Albans also suffered a reduction under the July timetable.

The disruption has also had a discernible impact on St Albans businesses according to the report.

It quotes figures from the St Albans Business Improvement District (BID) showing 82 per cent of surveyed local businesses say problems with Thameslink trains have directly affected them.

One respondent said: “We have had a number of cancellations per week [because of] the train issues resulting in at least a loss of £1,000 to £3,000 per week.

“On one occasion we had three cancellations which, based on our average spend, cost us £700 in lost revenue.

“This has therefore had a huge impact in our business.”

The council urged Thameslink to be swift in handing compensation to all ticket buyers, including one-off ticket buyers and non-season ticket holders, who were caught up in the disruption.