A change to rail timetables in December has been ‘reviewed’ and ‘scaled back’ to avoid a repeat of the chaos caused by May’s adjustments.
The national timetable is changed twice every year in May and December to allow for seasonal variations and to allow for the introduction of new services as a result of infrastructure investment and new trains.
However, the May timetable change saw a much larger overhaul of services – the biggest in recent history, according to industry watchdog Rail Delivery Group (RDG) – which led to widespread cancellations and delays across Govia Thameslink Railway’s (GTR) franchises and Northern.
Following a review, Network Rail and RDG have made the decision to take a “more cautious approach” on certain lines, with some improvements being introduced “more gradually”.
While the majority of franchises will go ahead with a new timetable in December, eight – including Crosscountry, GTR, Great Western, London Overground, Northern, South Western, Transpennine Express and West Midlands – will continue with the May timetable with “minor adjustments and small locally-based changes that have limited wider impact” where possible.
RDG says the approach is being supported by Network Rail and train operators and has been accepted by the government.
Sir Peter Hendy, chair of Network Rail, said: “The railway industry has taken a long hard look at its plans for the next timetable change in December, and, taking into account recent painful lessons, the industry has scaled back its ambition and tempered it with a more cautious, phased approach to introducing the new timetable.
“While there will still be new services introduced this December, other new services will now be introduced more gradually over the next few timetable changes to help smooth their introduction and maintain a reliable service for passengers and businesses alike.
“The railway is too vital for the health and wealth of our country to risk a repeat of the mistakes of May and this more balanced approach of ambition and caution is absolutely the right thing to do for the millions who rely on our railway every day.”
Paul Plummer, CEO of RDG, added: “In parts of the country, many people have suffered unacceptable disruption following the introduction of the new timetable in May for which we are sincerely sorry. The industry is determined to learn the lessons from what went wrong. After careful consideration, Network Rail and train operators are acting now to make sure people get a reliable service when the December timetable is introduced, which means some improvements will be delivered more slowly than originally planned.
“As part of our long-term plan to change and improve, we will still be introducing thousands of new carriages and delivering a 10 per cent increase in the number of trains running. Our ambition to deliver a once-in-a-generation step change in the quality of rail services is right but reliability for customers must come first and that’s what today’s announcement aims to ensure.”