I’ve received many emails and twitter messages over the past couple of days from commuters who are rightly angry and disappointed about the service Great Northern (as part of GTR) have been providing since the introduction of the new timetable on Monday.
Passengers are justifiably angry and disappointed about the delays and cancellations that they’ve experienced since the new timetable became operational. I was caught up in the situation myself on Wednesday night and understand everyone’s frustration.
In addition to forwarding all of my constituent messages direct to Katherine Cox, Stakeholder Manager, I also met with Myriam Walburger, Head of Corporate Affairs and Stuart Cheshire, Passenger Services Director yesterday to understand what had caused the problems - especially given the very lengthy planning period and good user consultation processes-
In particular, I wanted to know what had gone so catastrophically wrong - they told me...
" The national rail timetable process has been significantly delayed this year - where normally timetables are confirmed by Network Rail to operators with a few months’ notice, this moved to being 3.5 weeks for GTR. The significant shortening of the planning process meant that we had to condense putting together our stock and crew plans, including revising some assumptions made prior to an agreed final timetable, requiring us to transfer some drivers temporarily between rolling stock, depots and remapping maintenance cycles. With more work to do to get to the final position the result is some short term disruption, but with an improving trend with more services running every week up until July.
We are aiming to run as many services as possible each day, up until the very last moment as we move trains and crew around to the correct positions. This does make predicting cancellations harder, but it allows us to run as many services as possible instead of removing more services from the timetable. As a result, there isn’t a cut-off point when we have the final picture about the service provision for the next day. The operation team are imputing data into the system from circa 10pm onward and by about 2am to 3am the best estimate of the day's service provision is available online, however we are having to make ad hoc cancellation when absolutely necessary throughout the day. This is why we are continuing to push the message check before you travel, and encourage customers to claim delay repay if they are delayed by more than 15 minutes. I'm really sorry about the situation, and also want to reiterate that we are working on this relentlessly, every day to improve upon it.”
I also spoke to the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, and he apologised profusely to my constituents for problems arising from this national overhaul of rail timetables. He made it clear that there had been major failings by Network Rail.
In the Commons he said it was "not good enough" for people to face disruptions and that the Department for Transport were working hard to resolve the problem, but insisted it was a "major teething problem" in what will be a "step forward for the railways".
He criticised Network Rail, the state-owned company responsible for Britain's rail infrastructure, after it was far too late in finalising planned timetable changes. This echos what I was told when I met Stuart Cheshire, Passenger Services Director.
Chris Grayling said,
"What we've seen in the last few days hasn't been good enough. No-one should underestimate the logistical challenge of introducing a timetable change. These changes were made for very good reason - they'll mean a big expansion of services across the country. A timetable change on this scale involves reorganising staff rotas, it involves training for new routes, it involves reorganising how you deploy your trains.
It needed months of preparation and I'm afraid a number of things have gone wrong but most particularly - for the second time in six months - Network Rail was far too late in finalising the planned timetable changes and they have left the rest of the industry struggling to catch up.
I'm not happy with it at all and I've told the leadership of Network Rail this cannot happen again.
Even with unwanted cancellations at the start of this week, there are far more services running than last week before the timetable change happened.....ultimately this is going to mean better journeys for thousands of people up and down the country."
I would also like to personally apologise to my constituents for these disruptions - South Cambs is home to thousands of hard working, busy people who depend totally on these rail services. Please make sure you check GTR's website here if your train was cancelled or delayed to apply for compensation.
My meetings with GTR and the Secretary of State have left me reassured that these difficulties should fade away very rapidly indeed and that the improved services will resume quickly. If this is not the case, please do let me know as a matter of urgency.