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New timetables get first rush hour test

TIMETABLES have been shaken up following the usual May changeover, and commuters are discovering today whether the new schedules work.

All operators are keeping a sharp eye on performance. Although the new timetables started yesterday (Sunday), the real test comes on the first weekday.

Many people will remember the serious disruption which occurred a year ago, when Thameslink and Northern services were particularly badly affected when new timetables were introduced. The ambitious May 2018 Thameslink timetable included hundreds of extra services but proved to be unachievable, while Northern’s plans were hit by late-running Network Rail electrification work.

Thameslink was also criticised for failing to keep passengers informed about the disruption in the weeks that followed, and in March this year Govia Thameslink Railway was fined £5 million by the Office of Rail and Road.

Most operators were reporting a good start at 07.30, although South Western Railway, Southern and Thameslink suffered minor delays. However, these did not seem to be connected with the timetable changes. Some SWR services were delayed by a track fault at Wimbledon, Southern and Thameslink were both affected by a signalling problem between Mitcham Junction and Streatham, which meant speed restrictions, and Thameslink services were also being delayed by a points failure at Cricklewood, although this has now been corrected.

Watchdogs and campaigners are watching closely to see how the new timetables work out.

Darren Shirley, who is chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: ‘The railway has a long way to go to win back passenger confidence, but we hope that the lessons of last year have been learnt and the introduction of the new timetable will improve people’s perceptions of the railways, rather than further damaging them.

‘In the event that things do go wrong, we would expect the rail industry to have a robust contingency plan so that passengers aren’t left stranded again.’

Transport Focus chief executive Anthony Smith said: ‘Passengers want nothing less than a smooth set of timetable changes that deliver tangible improvements.

‘They paid a hefty price a year ago for a poorly manged set of major timetable changes. To regain the confidence of passengers, the rail industry must pull out all the stops to ensure these improvements deliver more punctual and reliable services.

‘Passengers will expect someone to be placed in charge of major timetable changes in future, to ensure robust oversight and with the power to hit the stop button when something is not going to work.’

The changeover has also meant that full-length High Speed Trains are no longer running on GWR. The last scheduled working was on Saturday evening from London Paddington to Exeter St David’s. It was accompanied by hundreds of well-wishers, who celebrated 40 years of HSTs on the routes to south Wales and the west of England.

Short HSTs consisting of just four refurbished Mk3 trailers will continue to run on GWR, mainly between Cardiff and Penzance, but 17 ex-GWR HSTs have now been cascaded to ScotRail.

For the time being, HSTs will also continue to be used by LNER and East Midlands Trains.

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