As of yesterday, the new Thameslink timetable commenced, with services running through to/from the Great Northern route via the Thameslink ‘core’ (the section between St Pancras and Blackfriars) 7 days a week. Unfortunately it hasn’t got off to the best start, with several cancellations on the first day of the new timetable – particularly affecting those services timetabled to go through the Canal Tunnels linking St Pancras and the Great Northern route however even the core Bedford-Brighton route was caught up, with around 7% of services cancelled and a further 18% running with delays of over 10 minutes.
Today too, there are major issues, with 30% of scheduled services on the Bedford end of the route before 7am being over 30 minutes late or cancelled, and some other routes are also having problems (source: trains.im – note this information is live so will differ from the below screenshot):
So, why the problems, and why weren’t these foreseen earlier? GTR are putting the majority of the delays today down to a ‘short term planning amendment’ on Twitter (and an even more vague ‘operational incident’ on industry systems):
This is cancelled as a result of a short term planning amendment, sorry. ^Nat
— Thameslink (@TLRailUK) May 21, 2018
Whilst technically they’re correct, the issue is more complex than this. Train operators have to finalise their timetables 12 weeks before a timetable change – my understanding is that, at quite a late stage, there was a third-party issue (outside of GTR’s control – the parent company of Thameslink) which meant that the timetable wasn’t finalised until much later than this and this has resulted in a last minute problem related to rostering drivers. What is within their remit, however, is passenger communication, which hasn’t been at its best.
With such a major timetable change it was key that if there were going to be any service disruption issues such as this, they were communicated sufficiently in advance, and in this instance, this has not been the case. GTR only admitted yesterday in public that there was an issue, and didn’t comment on the exact trains that had been cancelled until they showed in industry systems overnight and into this morning.
Additionally, they’re not helping stem the flow of social media replies by using the generic ‘short term planning amendment’ response – they need to be telling people the exact issue for their specific train (be it a driver not being rostered due to the above noted issues – or in the case of at least one service this morning that avoided London Bridge, a train being driven by someone who hasn’t been trained to drive the planned route). A reply such as the below would be far more useful and, I feel, get the company more sympathy:
Hi! Unfortunately this has been cancelled due to a short-notice issue outside of our control; due to this we had far less than the standard 12 weeks from the timetable being approved by Network Rail and thus still need to make final tweaks to driver rostering.
(recognising you’re never going to please everyone with such a reply – but you’ll least avoid awkward follow-ups asking for more detail, which are currently simply being ignored)
I also just want to put in a mention here of contingency for those passengers displaced from East Midlands Trains services from Bedford/Luton. The fast ‘extras’ aren’t particularly affected in today’s disruption it would seem, but in the event of major disruption (today is a good demonstration of how one cancelled train can cause problems down the line, both literally and metaphorically!) there should, in my view, be a plan in place to reinstate limited EMT Bedford/Luton calls, so passengers from these towns can still travel into London as per before today’s timetable change.
How’s your journey going today? Please do let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@mdw1989)