While some people have had to maintain their commute from Bedford by rail during the pandemic, many more will be returning to the railways in the coming months as Covid-19 (coronavirus) restrictions are eased.
They will find different trains from those they left in March 2020 – particularly East Midlands Railway services. This is a result of major timetable changes that come into force on Sunday 16 May.
In May 2018, morning peak services to London and evening peak return services were withdrawn.
During the pandemic, anyone who has needed to make those journeys has been stuck with hour-long Thameslink services. There has also been no rail link between Bedford and Wellingborough at those times, with buses instead.
From Sunday (16 May), Bedford will get its peak services back, but there will be two drawbacks to the new ‘EMR Connect’ service.
Firstly, it will be slower than most of the old trains, at typically around 42 minutes between Bedford and London.
And secondly, there will be no direct trains into the East Midlands: EMR services from Bedford will head northwards to Wellingborough, Kettering and Corby, but to get further north you’ll need to change at Kettering.
The overall service pattern will be two trains per hour in each direction, at roughly 9 and 39 minutes past the hour southbound, and 11 and 41 minutes past the hour northbound, give or take a minute or two over the course of the day.
However Sundays are the one day of the week when the new service pattern does not apply: Bedford will still get two trains per hour, but they will be Intercity trains, to and from Sheffield and the East Midlands.
Commuting – Bedford to London
In the morning peak to London, the changes in journey times are mixed: there used to be departures at 0709 (41 minutes to St Pancras), 0755 (44) and 0829 (37), while under EMR Connect there will be departures at 0709 (42 minutes), 0739 (44), 0810 (43) and 0839 (42) – a net increase of one train, but some of them slightly slower.
The difference between what we had before May 2018 and what we will have in the future is clearest in the evening peak. Previously, trains left St Pancras on the hour and half hour, and arrived in Bedford typically 36 minutes later. New services depart at 1717 (42 minutes to Bedford), 1747 (43), 1817 (43) and 1847 (40).
Commuting – north of Bedford
While far fewer people commute northwards by rail, the severance of direct services has been a major worry for those who need them.
Also, in 2018 peak services were only withdrawn in the main ‘peak’ direction, so commuting from Bedford to destinations north of Kettering had remained viable.
Taking the journey to Leicester as an example, previously there were northbound peak departures at 0629 (41 minutes to Leicester), 0700 (41), 0741 (50), 0810 (44) and 0843 (43) – all direct trains.
Under the new timetable, the departures from Bedford will be at 0626 (39 minutes, 1 change), 0639 (39, direct), 0711 (38, direct), 0728 (54, 1 change), 0800 (48 minutes, 1 change) and 0830 (49, 1 change).
Returning south from the East Leicester to Bedford in the evening peak, trains depart Leicester at 1711 (58 minutes), 1743 (53), 1811 (58) and 1841 (59), all requiring one change.
Previously there were two direct services taking 44 and 45 minutes, and two services requiring a change that took 66 and 57 minutes. So the new trains are slower than the previous quick options, and on a par, or a bit quicker, compared to the previous slow options.
The trains themselves will have pros and cons. They will be electric rather than diesel, so they will be quieter and more environmentally friendly. But a planned refurbishment programme hasn’t happened yet, and it’s not clear when it will.
Until it does, the trains will have cramped ‘3+2’ seating and no tables or power sockets. Also, their lower top speed is part of the reason for the longer journey times.
By John Kell
This is an abridged version of an article that
was first published on the Bedford Rail blog