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    Thameslink executives quizzed

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    News release: 13 February 2018

    Changes to the timetable for Thameslink trains in the St Albans District will be the “biggest for a generation”, rail executives have revealed.

    Thameslink logo
    There will eventually be 16 Thameslink trains an hour at peak times travelling through St Albans City Station.

    All fast trains at the morning and evening peak will have 12 carriages instead of occasionally eight as at present.

    Routes are to be expanded to allow passengers to travel directly to Greenwich and north Kent.

    The changes will follow the reopening of London Bridge Station to Thameslink trains after extensive building work.

    The new timetable comes into force in phases from May and is the result of three extensive rounds of consultation which gained almost 30,000 responses.

    Details were given to a meeting of St Albans City and District Council’s Planning, Resources, Housing and Commercial Scrutiny Committee on Thursday 8 February.

    Rail executives reported to the Committee last year that services on the Thameslink line were “not good” and the performance of new Siemens Class 700 trains had been “dire”.

    This year, they returned to reveal that there had been major improvements to services and there were more to come.

    Larry Heyman, Local Development Manager of Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), said there had been an “extraordinary uplift in performance”.

    He added: “Things are improving - we also know they can and will improve further.” 

    Mr Heyman said the number of trains arriving at their destination on time had hit 89% last month, the highest figure since privatisation in 1997.

    Over the current financial year to date, 85.8% of trains were on time compared to last year’s figure of 73.1%.

    Furthermore, an annual survey by Transport Focus showed that overall customer satisfaction was running at 83%, up 10% on last year.

    The number of train drivers had risen over the past year from 369 to 398 and was now above the 370 figure required to deliver the timetable.

    Software problems with the Siemens trains had largely been resolved and the number of breakdowns was now “very low”.

    Following customer complaints, the first 69 trains would be retro-fitted with Wi-Fi and seatback tables while the latest delivery of new trains already have these facilities.

    Mr Heyman also explained that the company did not set the recent New Year fare increases of an average 3.6%.

    All fare revenues went to the Department of Transport and GTR were paid an annual sum dependent on performance.

    Work on a £5 million overhaul of St Albans station, to include an improved Ridgmont Road entrance, should begin this summer and be completed in late spring next year.

    In a separate development, plans were well advanced for a second footbridge to ease platform congestion at peak times.

    Subject to Department of Transport funding being agreed, it was hoped to start this work in early 2020.

    In the meantime, all but one northbound evening peak service will stop on platform four which has two exits and can be cleared quicker than the “island” platform two. 

    Neil Henry, Network Rail’s Head of Operations and Performance, told the meeting about his company’s work in improving the track and other infrastructure.

    He said that delays causes by faults with signalling or other track equipment were at a four-year low. The number of incidents was falling as was the time taken to sort them out.

    Mr Henry said the company would have 100 extra staff maintaining the line from May to help with the “biggest timetable change for a generation”.

    Neil Middleton, Chair of the Association of Public Transport Users, confirmed that services had “very much improved”.

    However, he warned that there could be problems following the introduction of the new timetable in May. 

    This would coincide with East Midlands trains no longer stopping at Bedford and Luton at peak times, putting greater pressure on Thameslink services.

    He predicted St Albans commuters would have more trains but they would be very crowded. Harpenden commuters would have fewer but less busy trains.

    Wheelchair-user Dominic Hyams, a Thameslink commuter, also addressed the committee and complained of delays caused to his journeys by broken lifts at London St Pancras.

    He said repeated incidents over one four-day period had led to delays to his journey time totalling four-and-a-half hours.

    Councillor Roma Mills, the Committee’s Chair, said after the meeting: “At last we have heard some good, positive news about Thameslink and it appears there is more to come.

    “Services have undoubtedly improved considerably over the past year and customers are promised further substantial improvements when the new timetable comes into force.

    “The long-awaited overhaul to St Albans station has been delayed, but we were assured that will get underway this summer.

    “One of our members said this Committee has helped to bring about this uplift by putting constant pressure on the rail companies on behalf of our residents and I would agree with that.

    “It’s important that we keep the pressure on and we will continue to monitor progress, particularly the impact of the new timetable and the work to St Albans rail station. 

    “We will also be asking the Council’s Portfolio Holder for Business and the Community to write to the District’s MPs asking for a review on how fare increases are calculated each year. It was suggested, for instance, that they should be linked to the CPI rate of inflation rather than the higher RPI rate.”

    Councillor contact:
    Councillor Roma Mills, Chair of the Planning, Resources, Housing and Commercial Scrutiny Committee of St Albans City and District Council. 
    Tel: 01727 837319 
      
    Media contact:
    John McJannet, Principal Communications Officer, St Albans City and District Council. Tel: 01727-296130 E-mail: john.mcjannet@stalbans.gov.uk