Thameslink May 2018 timetables released – re-visiting the East Midlands Trains Bedford issue

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Over the weekend, Thameslink have finally put the majority of their services into online systems, so we’ve now got a near-complete picture on the peak services from Bedford. As such, I though it’d be interesting to do a follow-up blog article, and also take a look at the other developments on this change in the last month.

Peak timetable

Let’s take a look at the services leaving Bedford towards London between 7am & 9am, and St Pancras towards Bedford between 5pm & 7pm (as before, all timetable data from OpenTrainTimes).

In the below timetables, Fast services are Bedford -> Luton -> St Albans -> St Pancras, Semi-Fast services miss out some, but not all, stations between Bedford & Luton or call at Harpenden too, and Stopper services are those running all stations to St Albans then fast to St Pancras.

Southbound from Bedford towards London

0718 (Stopper)

0722 (Fast)

0734 (Semi-Fast)

0748 (Stopper)

0752 (Fast)

0801 (Stopper)

0818 (Stopper)

0822 (Fast)

0832 (Stopper)

0846 (Stopper)

0852 (Fast)

The first East Midlands Trains southbound service calling at Bedford is looking to be, as predicted, the 1013 to St Pancras.

Northbound from St Pancras to Bedford

1721 (Stopper)

1741 (Stopper)

1751 (Semi-Fast)

1811 (Stopper)

1821 (Semi-Fast)

1826 (Stopper)

1851 (Stopper)

(I’m going to take an educated guess that somewhere around xx:06/xx:36 there’s going to be a half-hourly fast service that hasn’t been loaded into the timetable system yet for the evening peak – which would bring the frequencies roughly into line with the morning peak, and this leaves both peaks at around 6tph total, with two fast services, then the rest a mix of semi-fast and stopping services.)

The last East Midlands Trains northbound service pre-peak calling at Bedford is looking to be the 1547 Corby service, and the first after the peak being the 1947 Corby service.

So, what to make of this?

My opinion largely hasn’t changed since my first blog post on the issue last month. With the re-cast timetable, to allow service from the Great Northern route to join the Thameslink line at St Pancras, I can totally see why Bedford calls on East Midlands Trains services won’t work in the morning peak – there’s too much risk of delays caused by platform availability at Bedford.

The evening peak calls at Bedford northbound will work fine timetable-wise, however East Midlands Trains have more recently confirmed that the primary reason they’re unable to do this is capacity-related. The new timetable does necessitate longer dwell times at terminus stations, affecting the amount of stock they’ve got available for use (some doubled-up services currently will have to operate as single units, for example) so I can see their argument on this.

However for the majority of commuters from Bedford, and a fair number from Luton, my opinion remains that the outlook for the next two years still isn’t great – less comfortable seating not designed for use on medium-distance services, and a minimum of 20 minutes extra commuting time per day. There’s also still the matter of those commuting into Bedford from the north, who will be bussed from/to Wellingborough. I was reading a Tweet from a Thameslink driver living in Wellingborough just this morning, who is unimpressed about these changes.

One point I wil make is that the failures here are far more on the DfT failing to adapt for delays in the electrification programme, rather than East Midlands Trains, who are having to make adjustments for the increased dwell times not imposed by them. This timetable was written with the assumption that the Corby electric stoppers would be running, presumably assuming the path of the additional Thameslink semi fast services south of Bedford, as the plan when the original timetable was drafted a few years ago was that MML electrification would be complete by now.

What do you think, and has your view changed since the initial announcement at the end of last year regarding the EMT service changes? It’d be interesting to read your thoughts in the comments. If you want to read the background on these changes in more detail, there’s an article in the latest (March 2018) Modern Railways magazine on the controversy surrounding these changes which is very fairly written.

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