Outrage at Thameslink ahead of ‘biggest change to timetable in a generation’

Bim Afolami MP addressing the meeting at Bennett's on Wednesday, March 14.

Bim Afolami MP addressing the meeting at Bennett's on Wednesday, March 14. - Credit: Archant

Rail operator Thameslink has being barraged with questions from all sides as the public demand answers ahead of controversial timetable changes being introduced this May.

Thameslink’s head of strategic planning Phil Hutchinson, its local development manager Larry Heyman, the Association of Public Transport Users’ Neil Middleton, and Harpenden and Hitchin MP Bim Afolami faced a crowd of commuters at Bennett’s on Leyton Road for a special meeting last week.

The rail users had come to find out more about changes to rush hour services, which could cause greater crowding on Thameslink trains.

East Midlands Trains (EMT) will stop its peak-time London services from calling at Bedford and Luton from May 20, which could cram 3,200 more passengers onto Thameslink services calling at Harpenden and St Albans and will lead to four less trains a day calling at Harpenden during peak times.

Before the meeting, the Association of Public Transport Users counted 2,150 people alighting from EMT services one Thursday.

Mr Hutchinson told the audience: “We were consulting on plans to run eight trains an hour and that was very much the case until November last year.

“The issue we have faced as an operator was what is EMT doing to its services at Bedford and Luton. We knew infrastructure and electrification schemes were put back until December 2020, but what we did not know, and EMT did not reveal, was Bedford and Luton were being pulled from their services into London.”

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The Department has asked Thameslink to retain services from Luton into London, which means services calling at Harpenden will be reduced.

Thameslink is also expanding into Kent and Sussex while undergoing what Mr Hutchinson referred to as “the biggest timetable change in a generation”.

When the meeting was opened out to the audience, they eked out of Mr Hutchinson an admission that the consultations Thameslink had run had not wholly included the timetable changes, as the company only knew about the changes after the consultations had started.

One audience member said they had spoken to only two or three others who had seen the consultations advertised.

Mr Middleton said Thameslink was not to blame and the real challenge was persuading Mr Afolami to speak with the transport secretary, which he has already scheduled.

However an audience member who said they had worked in the rail industry insisted these sort of changes were always up for debate and were often discussed before being implemented and potentially altered.

Another audience member said there was no business case for first-class carriages and it would be good to get rid of them as without that extra space passengers are being “stuffed like sardines”.

Both Mr Afolami and Mr Heyman said they disagreed with first-class on peak services.

After the meeting, the Harpenden MP said: “I am meeting with the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, to make clear the proposed changes to the Thameslink timetable are completely unacceptable.

“I have been leading the campaign alongside residents to ensure Thameslink do not go ahead with plans that will have a significant impact on the commuters of Harpenden.

“The proposed plans cannot go continue as planned, and I will do everything in my power to ensure that they do not.”

St Albans Anne Main has sought guarantees from Thameslink, whose parent company also runs Gatwick and Southern services, that services from St Albans will be maintained at their current level.

Thameslink promised her there will be more 12-car trains in the morning and evening peaks.