The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has fined Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) £5 million for failing to provide “appropriate, accurate and timely information to passengers” during the chaos caused by a new timetable last summer.
The regulator said its independent inquiry gave rise to a further investigation into whether GTR – which runs the Thameslink, Great Northern and Southern franchises – and Northern did enough to help passengers plan their journeys in both the run-up to the timetable introduction and during the disruption that followed.
While the ORR says the firm did make passengers aware of the planned timetable changes, in the eight weeks that followed “GTR failed to appropriately balance the steps it was taking to improve services with the need for passenger information to an acceptable extent and duration”.
In particular, the ORR found the operator permanently removed trains from the timetable but did not inform passengers until several weeks later. It also gave “very short notice” of the daily cancellation of trains, leaving customers with a “severe lack of certainty”.
Furthermore, “prolonged” delays in providing information about replacement bus services meant many passengers were not aware they were available.
And internal communication failures meant frontline staff were left with little or no information to assist passengers.
In addition, transport secretary Chris Grayling ordered GTR to contribute £15 million towards passenger improvements.
On the contrary, the ORR says that while Northern passengers were left with little information in the two weeks immediately following the introduction of the new timetable, the operator took “reasonable steps” to notify customers subsequently and introduced an emergency schedule on 4 June to stabilise service levels.
The ORR has also written to all train companies and Network Rail to require them to review crisis management plans to ensure arrangements are made in the event of similar disruption caused by future timetables.
The news comes after the Rail Delivery Group announced the industry will add 1,000 extra services a week in this May's timetable change. MPs have raised concerns that passengers could face severe disruption again because train companies and Network Rail had not learned lessons from 2018's chaos.
ORR deputy director, consumers, Stephanie Tobyn commented: “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 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.”