Govia Thameslink Railway faces £5 million fine for May timetable chaos
Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) faces a £5 million fine after a chaotic timetable launch caused disruption to thousands of passengers. Commuters on Thameslink and Great Northern (GN) routes suffered for eight weeks following the introduction of the a new timetable in May 2018 with swathes of services cancelled or altered at short notice. The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said GTR "failed to provide appropriate, accurate and timely information" to travellers, with commuters receiving little or no information about services.
Some trains were permanently removed from the timetable with others removed or cancelled on a daily basis, leading to a "severe lack of certainty for passengers up until the point of travel.” In response, GTR said they were "disappointed" but that disruption "was due to industry-wide factors and we are sorry for the serious effect this had on our passengers."
The investigation also found that inadequate internal communication within GTR often left station staff with "little or no information" to help passengers. The regulator added: “Some trains were reintroduced but with insufficient time to input journey information into systems. These ‘ghost trains’ arrived at stations with staff and passengers unaware of their arrival or where they were expected to stop. Replacement buses were used on some routes but prolonged delays in providing information in journey planners meant many passengers weren’t aware that they were available.”
Train companies, government-owned infrastructure company Network Rail and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling were all blamed for the timetable chaos at the time. The ORR has written to all train companies and Network Rail to require them to review their crisis management plans and ensure appropriate arrangements exist for assisting passengers with disabilities in times of disruption.
Stephanie Tobyn, a deputy director at the regulator, said: "The disruption experienced by many passengers as a result of the May timetable introduction was awful. When disruption happens, poor quality information makes an already difficult and frustrating situation worse. The exceptional circumstances that followed the introduction of the timetable meant that providing perfect advance information for passengers was from the outset an impossible task and GTR's overriding focus was on providing as much capacity as it could to meet customer demand. However persistent and prolonged failures in information provision meant that passengers couldn't benefit from the operational improvement it was trying to make."
Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Transport Focus, said: "Passengers were badly let down when the new timetable descended into chaos on some Govia Thameslink Railway and Northern routes, and information was often poor. This £5 million fine for Govia Thameslink should be a wake-up call to train companies that accurate passenger information really matters. It is important that the money from this fine is reinvested to benefit those passengers who suffered last year."
A separate ORR investigation into Northern rail found that although in many cases passengers did experience inadequate information in the two weeks that immediately followed the timetable introduction, it had "considered and subsequently taken reasonable steps to give passengers appropriate, accurate and timely information both prior to and during the disruption." The regulator said: "An interim timetable was introduced on 4 June that stabilised service levels, improved performance, and enabled the provision of better information to passengers. In consideration of these findings no further action will be taken against Northern."
Govia has 21 days to respond to the penalty notice from the ORR.
GTR chief executive officer Patrick Verwer said: “We are disappointed at today’s fine imposed by the Office of Rail and Road. We are making significant improvements to information for passengers. These include upgrades to station screens, issuing frontline staff with new smartphones loaded with real-time service information, and we have volunteer teams on standby to help passengers during disruption. Further improvements in customer information are planned. The severe disruption following last May’s timetable introduction was due to industry-wide factors and we are sorry for the serious effect this had on our passengers. GTR has paid £18m in passenger compensation and is investing a further £15m in improvements for passengers for its part in the timetable issues.”