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First day of new timetables marred by staff shortages

THE launch of the December timetables yesterday was marred in some areas, although the problems did not seem to be caused by the new timetables themselves.

Great Western Railway said ‘an unusually high number’ of staff had not been available for work. It was the last Sunday but one before Christmas, and Sunday working was traditionally a matter for voluntary working, although this is no longer the case with newer contracts.

Even so, the lack of staff meant that many intercity services from London had to be turned short, with some trains to Devon and Cornwall being terminated at Exeter St David’s, where passengers travelling further west had to change on to a local train or replacement bus.

Passengers from Cheltenham Spa and Gloucester had to change at Swindon for a London service, and there were also some cancellations on the route between London and south Wales.

GWR said: ‘The amendments have come about because an unusually high number of rail staff are not available to work. While newer GWR contracts include Sunday working, not all railway workers are contracted to work on Sundays. GWR is working with colleagues and trade unions to make Sunday contracted hours more consistent across the business.’

There were more problems in Wales, where at least nine cancellations were reported by Transport for Wales, caused by a lack of staff and some train faults.

A TfW spokesman said: ‘We are continuing to do everything possible to ensure the maximum number of services are operating every day, and this time of year can always be challenging, particularly on weekends, and we’re sorry that there have been a number of cancellations on our network.’

TfW added that it is recruiting more staff and was ‘confident that customers would see a improvement’.

Southern and South Western Railway services were also disrupted early yesterday by over-running engineering work, and SWR timetables continue to be reduced by the RMT strike. Over-running engineering work also disrupted early morning services between Birmingham New Street and Birmingham International, and between Alexandra Palace and Hertford North.

The real test of the new schedules will come today, when full peak hour services will be running.

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