Thameslink/Great Northern contract extended despite commuter complaints

A Great Northern train

The company behind Great Northern and its sister brands Thameslink and Southern will be allowed to continue to run trains until 2025 at the earliest - Credit: Nick Gill

The company behind Thameslink and Great Northern trains will continue to run commuter services until at least 2025.

The government has said that the Govia, which has run the service since 2014, may extend its contract to run the trains throughout London and South East England.

Passengers have said that the move "beyond laughable" and have accused Thameslink and Great Northern of running a poor service.

But Wendy Morton MP, Minister for Rail, praised the company's new plan to improve the punctuality, reliability and accessibility of its services.

She said: "As the UK’s largest rail operator, I know GTR will play a key role helping the government continue delivering our Plan for Rail and revolutionise the lives of passengers.

"With their plans for improving the punctuality, reliability and accessibility of their services through close collaboration with Network Rail, we are proud to partner with GTR to create a truly passenger focused service."

Mark, from Sandridge, Hertfordshire, said that there are "numerous failures" with the service.

A Thameslink train at St Albans City, Hertfordshire

A Thameslink train at St Albans City, Hertfordshire - Credit: Peter Alvey Photographer

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He said: "The train service is a joke.

"Seven trains per hour used to be 18 - Covid excuse is wearing thin.

"Not enough drivers since they took over the contract in 2014, plus numerous other failures.

"Just ask anyone who has had the misfortune to have to commute with them."

Tom, a commuter, said: "It’s almost beyond laughable that an organisation who are given one of the most profitable commuter lines in the country can run such a poor service and continue to get contracts renewed.

"There is zero accountability from central government and minimal pressure from MPs to hold them to account."

Cal, from St Albans, said: "It's been a bit of a joke since 2014.

"I don't really use them anymore because it's too much stress of playing a gamble and getting stuck on a rammed train."

Thameslink, Great Northern and Southern is the largest rail franchise in the country, serving several key travel hubs

Thameslink, Great Northern and Southern is the largest rail franchise in the country, serving several key travel hubs such as Cambridge, Brighton and London Bridge - Credit: PA/Dominic Lipinski

The franchise is split across three brands - Thameslink, Great Northern and Southern.

It is the largest in the country, with 235 stations and 7,400 employees, spanning Hampshire and Brighton to Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire and Norfolk.

The company rolled out flagship Class 700 trains for cross-London use between 2016 and 2018.

It introduced a new Cambridgeshire to Sussex service in 2018.

According to the Office of Rail and Road, a higher than average percentage of Thameslink trains arrive at their destinations within 15 minutes of the scheduled time - 98.8 percent compared with 98.5 percent nationally.

But just 3.7 percent of trains were cancelled nationwide, compared with 5.2 percent on the Thameslink, Great Northern and Southern network.

Before Govia took on the contract, the Thameslink and Great Northern franchise was operated by First Group

Before Govia took on the contract, the Thameslink and Great Northern franchise was operated by First Group - Credit: Kevin Lines

Govia has recently suffered financial penalties for breaching its franchise agreements.

It was stripped of the Southeastern franchise between London and Kent in October 2021 for "breaches of good faith".

The company - which was joint run with French company Keolis - failed to declare £25 million of historical taxpayer funding which should have been returned.

It was slapped with a £23.5 million fine in relation to the incident on March 17.

Grant Shapps MP, transport secretary, said: "I took decisive action and did not renew the contract with Southeastern following this appalling breach of trust."

Southeastern has been slapped with a £23.5 million government fine

Southeastern, which was run by Govia until it was stripped of the franchise, has been slapped with a £23.5 million government fine - Credit: PA/Gareth Fuller

But the Thameslink operators have promised to improve customer experience.

The company has put aside money for localised station enhancement, community-led projects, and projects to remove barriers for disabled people.

It will phase out its entire diesel fleet by 2035, and will aim for 2.5 percent of its workforce to be new starters via an apprenticeship programme.

In its extended franchise, Govia wants to encourage more passengers back onto trains

In its extended franchise, Govia wants to encourage more passengers back onto trains - Credit: PA/Nigel Spreadborough/Locations Photography

Govia is joint owned by the Go-Ahead Group and Keolis UK.

Christian Schreyer, Go-Ahead CEO, said: "Under this new contract we will build on our achievements in enhancing performance in recent years.

"A top priority is to build passenger numbers back after the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Go-Ahead will bring commercial acumen and international experience to bear in encouraging people back to the railways."

Alistair Gordon, of Keolis UK, said: "We’re pleased that the hard work of the team at GTR – especially over the difficult past few years – has been recognised.

"We are particularly heartened by the commitment of an ambitious green agenda and strengthening the business’ passenger centred approach during the contract."