Councillors demand immediate improvement to Thameslink rail services

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News release: 11 June 2018

Councillors have called on the Government to make urgent improvements to the Thameslink train line following a “disastrous” overhaul of the timetable.

Rail campaign leader Emily Ketchin
They have asked Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Transport, to reinstate axed peak-hour trains from Harpenden on the Thameslink line.

He has also been urged to make major changes to the system for compensating passengers for poor services. 

This would include allowing passengers to claim a refund when they are unable to board overcrowded trains.

In a further move, St Albans City and District Councillors agreed to raise concerns about health and safety risks to passengers with franchise holder Govia Thameslink Railway.

This follows injury to two people during a stampede for a train at Harpenden rail station as well as complaints about overcrowded platforms and carriages.

Councillors will also ask the Portfolio Holder for Planning, Cllr Mary Maynard, to look at the possibility of challenging the new timetable by way of a Judicial Review.

The actions were agreed by Councillors on the all-party Planning, Resources, Housing and Commercial Scrutiny Committee at its meeting on Thursday 7 June.

Chair Cllr Roma Mills was tasked with writing to both Mr Johnson and Govia about the Committee’s concerns.

After the meeting, Cllr Mills said: “Govia promised a once-in-a-generation timetable change that would transform the Thameslink line.

“The unanimous view of the Committee is that that this has been completely disastrous. This District’s tens of thousands of rail commuters, particularly those who use Harpenden rail station, have suffered terribly.

“There are continuous delays, cancellations, poor communications, overcrowding and other serious safety issues. As a matter of urgency, we want the Government to take action to sort out the mess.

“I have written to both the Minister for Transport and Govia with a series of demands and will also be raising the issue of a Judicial Review to see if this new timetable, which appears to have been imposed without a proper public consultation, is lawful.”

The Committee heard from Larry Heyman, Govia’s Local Development Manager, Emily Ketchin, founder of the newly-formed Harpenden Thameslink Commuters’ Group, and Neil Middleton, Chair of the Association of Public Transport Users.

Mr Heyman said he was “extremely embarrassed and disappointed” at the impact of the new timetable which came into force last month.

He said he had hoped the changes would be a cause of “celebration” and the climax to £7 billion of investment to the Thameslink line.

Mr Heyman said he was unable to discuss the causes of the turmoil for legal reasons because that was now the subject of an investigation.

Looking to the immediate future, he said two initiatives were being taken to try and improve services.

Govia was hoping to “regularise” the timetable so that commuters would be informed of cancellations the night before rather than at short notice.

Attempts were also being made to introduce an interim timetable that would remove the need for cancellations, although that would not be ready before the end of July.

Ms Ketchin said the Harpenden Thameslink Commuter Group had gained 1,500 members in just two months because of the high “level of dissatisfaction” with services.

She said Govia had said the timetable changes would mean fewer fast trains to London from Harpenden at key times, but a similar number of seats.

Prior to the changes, there had been nine fast trains from 7.30am to 8.30am with 88 carriages while the new timetable only scheduled six trains and 66 carriages. In contrast, Luton would get 27% more trains.

She said trains were being “cancelled left, right and centre,” often without any notice, while “phantom trains” were appearing at the station unannounced.

The chaos had caused a health and safety issue with two commuters being injured during a rush from one platform to another to catch a train.

She said there was a need for a Judicial Review to clarify if the Department for Transport had been right to allow the new timetable to proceed without a proper public consultation.

Ms Ketchin said with annual season tickets to London costing more than £4,000, the previous level of peak-time services should be reinstated.

She said commuters were not being adequately compensated for the current disruption because of major flaws with the compensation system.

Passengers were required to state the exact time of the delayed or cancelled train they had missed.

However, she said that due to the present disruption: “They don’t know what train they are supposed to be getting.”

Mr Middleton said the new timetable had produced “highly-predictable chaos” and that Thameslink had “let themselves down badly”.

He said it was “highly disappointing” that Thameslink were still not running a predictable service nor communicating accurately what services were running some three weeks after the new timetable was introduced.

Picture: Emily Ketchin addresses the meeting.

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: