'Unprecedented' scale of rail timetable change revealed

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The level of investment and complexity in introducing new services meant that the rail timetable change planned for May 20 was "unprecedented" in scale, according to MPs.

It involved 42,300 individual changes, affecting 46 per cent of all passenger services on the network, said the Transport Select Committee's report.

"While there had been an increase in the scale of timetable changes in recent years, May 20 represented a very considerable step-change. It was around four times the scale of a typical six-monthly timetable change," said the report.

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Changes in the north of England were to be a "substantial" step towards unlocking the benefits of the Great North Rail Project, with new trains, including more than 500 new carriages, room for 40,000 extra passengers and more than 2,800 extra services a week.

In London and the south, May 20 was intended to deliver around 70% of the capacity benefits of the "hugely ambitious" Thameslink Programme, which aims to facilitate Tube-like service frequencies, with trains every two or three minutes on new infrastructure through the capital.

The report said: "The industry has a long-established system, with clearly set out and well-understood processes, for changing the national rail timetable every six months, in May and December each year.

"These changes vary in scale. They are often relatively minor tweaks and, when they go to plan, many passengers will be able to access additional services, but many others will be unaffected or scarcely notice the change at all.

"Timetable changes are crucial for the rail industry, delivering extra capacity to better meet demand, and enabling train operating companies to meet contractual obligations and increase their revenues."

Far from marking the intended substantial improvement for rail passengers across the north and in London and the south of England, May 20 and the weeks that followed will live long in the memories as a prolonged period of inconvenient, costly and, on occasions, when there were very late cancellations and platform changes, potentially dangerous disruption, said the MPs.

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), the operator of the largest passenger franchise on the network, including Thameslink, Great Northern and Southern, failed to run about 470 (12%) of its planned 3,880 daily services.

Arriva Rail North, which operates Northern rail services across the north of England, did not run around 310 (11%) of its planned 2,810 services per weekday, and there were "very substantial" knock-on effects on TransPennine Express.

The MPs said the statistics cannot do justice to the "severe effects" on people's lives.

They said: "The disruption cost passengers money, with working people forced to pay for taxis and additional childcare costs. Businesses and local economies suffered, children were late for school, anxiety about getting to and from work put a considerable strain on people's mental health.

"Confusion resulting from last minute cancellations and platform changes subjected passengers to 'uncontrolled risks' in over-crowded stations. Effective communication broke down. The situation was chaotic."