'Check before you travel': passengers face cuts and uncertainty


With train firms across the UK once again cutting services, it has emerged that Network Rail is not currently attempting to restore the guarantee that timetables will be accurate up to 12 weeks in advance.

Last week the Rail Delivery Group said that new temporary timetables would ensure that passengers get a more reliable service with fewer short notice cancellations.

The plans would ‘ensure that taxpayers get the best value for money, with the number of trains running better matching demand’.

It said operators have done this during previous periods where work from home advice was in place and advised passengers to 'check before you travel'.

Southern is still running a limited service to and from London Victoria from stations such as Epsom

Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Transport Focus, described the move as ‘a pragmatic response to rising staff illness if it prevents chaotic last-minute cancellations’.

He added: ‘But services must still meet the needs of those who have to travel, especially key sector workers.

‘Operators must protect first and last services, provide enough space to keep passengers at a safe distance from each other and flexibility so that tickets can be used on alternative routes or times. Passengers will want to see a reliable timetable and accurate information so they can plan their journey with confidence.’

12 weeks notice no more

On Wednesday South Western Railway said it was introducing a new timetable, from Monday (17 January), 'which is designed to ensure reliability for customers'.

Early in the pandemic, Network Rail’s System Operator lost the ability to publish the timetable twelve weeks in advance, with timetables published on a week-to-week basis.

Prior to the introduction of emergency timetables, it was publishing timetables eight weeks in advance.

A spokesperson for Network Rail told Transport Network that it is currently ‘content’ with the eight-week timescale situation and ‘not actively looking to increase that until we have more certainty with the base timetable planned for May 2022’, adding that it is ‘working closely with operators to make sure the train service we provide meets passengers’ needs and matches demand’.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) told Transport Network that it continuously monitors Network Rail’s System Operator and is monitoring it and the wider industry as they work together on how best to change the timetable process to better meet passenger and freight needs.

The regulator added that ‘it remains imperative that train companies properly communicate timetables and any potential changes to passengers’.

Mr Smith from Transport Focus told Transport Network: ‘Passengers expect trains that are advertised and they have bought tickets for to actually run. Clearly, there are times – including because of Covid 19 – where the timetable has to change at short notice. When that happens to passengers who have already bought tickets they must be told and offered alternatives or their money back.’

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