Posted 30th May 2018 | 6 Comments

Protests mount as disruption goes on

TRANSPORT secretary Chris Grayling is locked in talks with Network Rail and operators over disruption to train services, which has now lasted for more than a week.

Protests have grown as once again Govia Thameslink routes were hit by cancellations after the Bank Holiday weekend, while up to one on three Northern trains have been cancelled, particularly in the north west.

Transport Focus has called for ‘generous’ compensation, while the RMT said its members were ‘bearing the brunt’ of public anger.

Transport Focus chief executive Anthony Smith said: “Train operators need to be generous with the compensation, get back to running the timetable reliably, and making sure the information on stations and journey planners matches what is actually happening. Passengers’ patience is going to be tested quite sorely.

Chris Grayling has also been the focus of attention. He said: “I am in regular discussions with Network Rail, Northern and GTR. This morning I reiterated that disruption suffered by passengers is wholly unacceptable. I have been very clear with Network Rail that it was far too late in finalising planned timetable changes and this must not happen again.”

Govia Thameslink has been sending frequent messages about changes, but long-serving rail manager Sir Michael Holden Tweeted: “I’ve been in this industry some 43 years now and I can’t understand from this guff what service they are actually trying to run.”

Apologetic GTR said it hoped the problems would ease soon, after a changeover on 20 May which had involved the retiming of more than 3,000 trains. A spokesman said: “We are working on a recovery plan with rail industry partners. Meanwhile, as late notice changes continue to be made, we ask passengers to check train times on the day of travel. We expect disruption to ease over the coming month.”

The RMT has repeated its calls for both GTR and Northern to be taken back into public ownership.

RMT gemeral secretary Mick Cash said: “The vast majority of passengers know that the ongoing timetable problems in the wake of Meltdown Monday are down to the train companies and not the staff. But some lash out from sheer frustration.

"There is no excuse for that whatsoever and the union will not tolerate a situation where our members at the ‎sharp end are effectively being deployed as human shields by a remote and incompetent management.

“It’s time to sack these spivs who just see the railway as a one way ticket to the bank without a thought for passengers and staff.”

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Chris, York

    GTR appear reluctant to admit that things are not going to plan. A claim for compensation last week (for a 1hr 20min delay) was rejected with the expanation that "there was no scheduled train at that time". This despite a screen shot of the timetable plus a photograph of the on-platform train describer being attached...

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham

    Changing the subject, I've been having a look at Northern. The woes of the timetable change can to some extent be put down to a combination of little errors by different people that added up. However, Northern's performance was getting worse before the timetable change, and that can't be blamed on a rushed timetable change.

    Key details I noticed:

    * It's not as bad as the last Arriva-run Northern franchise (which was in part the fault of Northern Spirit whose liabilities Arriva inherited), but it might if things get worse.
    * A common factor of both underperforming franchises is a lack of drivers. That is not so forgivable. Even if you blame last time on the company Arriva bought, Arriva should have at least learnt lessons from that.
    * Performance held steady for a year after the Arriva franchise started but then started getting worse. It roughly co-incides with Alex Hynes departure for Scotrail, but whether that's the cause is another question.
    * There is a lot of variation in performance. The north-east and Yorkshire is generally pretty good, but some areas in the north-west are doing notably badly. Make of that what you will

  • Andrew Gwilt, Benfleet Essex

    Why not strip & separate GTR and allow the government to take over the franchise. Once the TSGN franchise ends in 2021.
    [The Government has already said that the GTR franchise will not be renewed in its present form. Nationalisation is not stated policy, in spite of the the exceptional circumstances of East Coast.--Editor]

  • Chris Jones-Bridger, Buckley

    Enough buck passing by Mr Grayling & his department. The GTR franchise is a construct of the DfT designed and awarded to manage the implementation of the Thameslink service. GTR is the DfT's chosen contractor and it is Mr Gayling and the DfT who have failed to manage GTR in ensuring delivery of the contracted obligations. The warnings of impending failure have been there for years especially given the hostile atmosphere generated by the prolonged DOO dispute. The DfT have been complicit in allowing this to fester on and as such have negatedany contractual penalties that could have been exercised against the TOC.

    Due to the complexities of the infrastructure enhancements it was never going to be a pain free process but NR have successfully delivered the core Thameslink railway. As the Gibb review highlighted other work has been required before the full service specification can be implemented and a sensible incremental approach to the timetable has reasonably been adopted. After years of promises of jam tomorrow the 20th May timetable change was meant to showcase the modern railway. Instead we have been treated to a monumental public relations disaster.

    From day one GTR has been under resourced. The previous Thameslink franchisee left a shortage of drivers & no pipeline of trainees, a clear case of profit taking at the expense of the long term future of the railway. The DfT was complicit in accepting the cut price GTR bid where front line staff were to be sacrificed to justify cost reductions. Clearly this has now played out by having insufficient trained & competent staff to run even the initial ramping up of the full Thameslink timetable.

    Certainly the non delivery of planned infrastructure by NR has affected the timetable that Northern intended to implement with the timetable change. However it is also clear that ambition has exceeded delivery capability from the TOC. The fact that services are not running due to a lack of trained & competent staff certainly smacks of a serious failure on the TOC's behalf.

    Both GTR & Arriva Northern are failing in the basics of running a reliable railway. At the very least both are in default of their franchise contracts. Irrespective of ownership it is within the power of the Transport Secretary and the DfT to take action to ensure sound management of these service groups is restored. Apart from hot air I'm not optimistic of seeing this happen.

  • MikeB, Liverpool

    With regard to Northern, one story "doing the rounds" is that drivers are in dispute with management over new rosters associated with the timetable change. As a consequense, an overtime ban is in place, hence the large numbers of service cancellations. Perhaps someone can confirm whether or not there is any truth in this rumour.

  • Martin, Haywards Heath

    I would love to know what actually has gone wrong on GTR not the hype and spin. Don't forget the Thameslink timetable increases have been phased exactly to make sure that things like this don't happen.

    We have had poor service during all the Thameslink upgrades over many years with promises that it will all be worth it once it is done and clearly that is not the case.

    We need to understand why GTR has gone so wrong and then if is incompetence take the franchise away from them, break it up into manageable sizes and let it back out again. The current structure clearly isn't working.

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