Rail chaos lands Govia Thameslink record £5m fine

Govia Thameslink Train
Image: Govia Thameslink

Eight weeks of travel chaos for Bedford commuters in May last year has landed Govia Thameslink a record £5m fine from the regulator, The Office of Rail and Road (ORR).

Issuing the fine for a breach of licence, the ORR said Govia Thameslink had “failed to provide appropriate, accurate and timely information” in implementing new timetables for Thameslink and Great Northern routes.

It’s the first time a fine has been issued for a breach of licence and for this amount.

During their investigation, the ORR found:

  • Trains had been removed from the timetable permanently, but passengers where not given clear updates for many weeks.
  • Trains were also removed or cancelled at a moment’s notice
  • Trains reintroduced were done so without sufficient time to input journey information into systems. These ‘ghost trains’ arrived at stations unannounced, leaving staff and passengers confused
  • Replacement buses were used on some routes but prolonged delays in journey planners meant passengers weren’t aware they were available
  • Station staff also had to deal with inadequate internal communication which left them unable to help passengers.

Stephanie Tobyn, Deputy Director, Consumers, ORR, “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”

Govia Thameslink has 21 days to respond to the fine and, as reported in The Guardian, the firm’s chief executive, Patrick Verwer, said: “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.”

Mr Verwer said these improvements included:

  • upgrades to station screens
  • issuing frontline staff with smartphones loaded with real-time service information
  • volunteer teams on standby to help passengers during disruption

Today, the ORR has also written to all train companies and Network Rail to require them to review crisis management plans and make sure appropriate plans exist for assisting passengers with disabilities in times of disruption, planned and unplanned.

In a statement on his Facebook page, Bedford and Kempston MP, Mohammad Yasin welcomed the news, he said: “The weeks of chaos that followed the new timetable in May last year hit my constituents hard, so this record fine is no suprise.

“I am pleased too that the ORR have asked rail companies to ensure that appropriate arrangements exist for passengers with disabilities when services are disrupted, as this was a particular problem for Bedford passengers.

I sincerely hope that lessons really have been learnt and there will not be a repeat performance of these problems this year as a new timetable is once again introduced.”