This morning we broke the news that the Transport Select Committee have recommended serious changes to the way train timetables are adjusted and communicated. They said the chaotic roll-out of the new rail timetable back in May was “totally unacceptable”.
Now commuters and Bedford and Kempston MP Mohammad Yasin have responded saying the recommendations are too little too late and that the Transport Select Committee have essentially just repeated what many have been saying for months.
A commuter we spoke to said the offer of a season ticket reduction in 2019 was a nice idea but really they just want their old timetable back: “To get into work for the same time as I used to when I could use East Midland trains, I have to leave home 15 to 20 minutes earlier… I used to eat breakfast and see my kids most mornings. I now do so much less.
“In the evenings, what with the absolutely awful evening service and the timetable change, I am usually 30 minutes or so later than I used to be… This obviously has an impact on my work/life balance.”
We also spoke to commuters about who they blame for the chaos. The Transport Select Committee says it was a collective, system-wide failure across Network Rail, the privately-owned train operating companies, the Department for Transport and the Office of Road and Rail. But not everyone agrees.
“I blame Network Rail for the timetable chaos generally” said a commuter “but also for designing a timetable that puts commuters (i.e. regular daily travellers spending thousands a year) second to long distance business travellers.
“This produces oddities like the train frequencies of EMT services serving Bedford outside of peak times which defy all logic. For example, four trains in 50 mins between 9.30pm and 10.20pm then none for 50 mins.”
Commuters also say they were let down by local representatives too: “A lot of noise was made by politicians and the like, but no one actually did anything to help Bedford commuters. For example, no legal action was taken.
“Much more was seen in the national press/news about commuters on Northern Rail and yet Thames link is (I believe) a much bigger franchise with more passengers.”
Meanwhile, Mohammad Yasin MP says timing of these recommendations is the key issue: “The select committee have urged swift reform and I agree with them. But the next timetable changes are due on the 10th December, so there’s no time to implement anything meaningful before that happens.
“If the next change doesn’t go to plan we’ll be right back where we were earlier this year, with the Department for Transport defending the indefensible, and Chris Grayling dodging his responsibilities.”
Our MP also agrees that the price reduction is a nice idea but doesn’t go far enough: “… A freeze at very least is what is needed, frankly I think it’s unbelievable that these fare hikes are even being considered in the light of the atrocious service failures and the huge impact on rail users of the May timetable debacle.
“These are recognised in this report, but it remains to be seen if they will be acknowledged by government. It is disappointed that Bedford was not identified as one of the worst affected stations however. As the ‘end of the line’ station the journey time is longer to begin with, Bedford commuters get home later and the cost of a season ticket is higher – so these poorly implemented changes really hit hard.
“The recognition that disabled passengers were disproportionately affected by the changes is to be welcomed – there was very little appreciation of just how disruptive and inadequate the contingency plans for the recent lift refurbishments at Bedford station were either. I sincerely hope that lessons will be learnt.”
In their response the the Transport Select Committee’s report, Patrick Verwer, Chief Executive of Govia Thameslink Railway, said: “We acknowledge the report by the Transport Select Committee into the industry-wide issues surrounding the introduction of the May timetable.
“We are very sorry for the disruption the May timetable caused and have already processed compensation claims for 68,000 season ticket holders, with the deadline for claims extended to 31 January 2019.
Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, said: “We know that passengers were badly let down in May and as an industry we are really sorry. It is important we act now, learn lessons and take on board recommendations. We have to work together to make sure our capacity to deliver change matches the expectations that passengers rightly have and deserve.”