/ Travel & Leisure

Major rail timetable shake-up: have you checked your train?

From Sunday 20 May, the time of every single train on Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), Britain’s largest rail franchise, is set to change. Will you be affected?

This will affect passengers of Gatwick Express, Great Northern, Southern and Thameslink. The new timetable arrives as part of RailPlan2020, with GTR promising ‘enhanced frequency, reliability and connectivity across the network’.

But with such a huge shake-up to so many services, not everyone is expecting things to run smoothly when thousands of commuters descend on the network on Monday morning.

Teething problems

GTR is urging passengers to check the timetable before setting off to avoid getting caught out. On some routes, a ‘gradual introduction’ is taking place, meaning there won’t be a full service. Chief executive Charles Horton was recently quoted saying:

“Due to the sheer scale of the changes, we will have to redeploy a large number of trains and crews and services may not run at normal times during the introductory phase, although the impact on peak-time services during the transition will be minimal.”

While GTR is urging people to plan ahead, we’re urging passengers to make sure they’re aware of their rights to compensation should things go wrong.

Claiming compensation

The industry-wide National Rail Conditions of Travel were recently changed to recognise different routes to compensation — including the passengers’ right to to claim using the Consumer Rights Act.

Under the CRA, train companies must deliver their service with reasonable care and skill. Consumers can make a claim for compensation when they fail to do so, for example when passengers incur reasonable consequential losses as a result of having to make other arrangements when train services are delayed or cancelled and it is the train company’s fault.

Ask the experts

If you’ve suffered a recent rail delay/cancellation and aren’t sure if you can claim, we’re offering our independent advice live on Facebook at 3pm today.

We’ve seen conflicting information from Train Operating Companies in the past with regards to the Consumer Rights Act and travel. I’ll be on hand to help clear up some of these myths, and help passengers get the compensation we know they’re entitled to.

Will you be affected by ‘the biggest timetable change ever’? Let us know what’s happened to your train in the comments, and if you’re planning on submitting a claim should you run into problems.


I was curious to know what lay behind this major change and it is, of course, Thameslink.

Background to 2018 timetable change
The Thameslink Programme is funded by the government through the DfT, with Network Rail delivering infrastructure improvements, Siemens delivering new trains and GTR providing additional passenger services.
When the Programme completes in 2018, it will transform north-south travel through London; journeys will be improved with trains every two to three minutes through central London at peak times.Improved connections will give you better travel options to more destinations than ever before, modern track will make your journeys more reliable and new trains will provide additional capacity.
Network Rail is carrying out station, track and signalling works, working closely with GTR to minimise disruption to passengers. As part of the Programme, Network Rail will simplify the track layouts on the approaches to London Bridge station which will allow for a more reliable, less congested railway. In order to achieve this, Network Rail will introduce new infrastructure including a major new section of railway.

It will be interesting to see just how well all the preparation and planning works out. I’d be surprised if there were no teething problems with such a complex change.

I’ll be testing it out on my way in on Monday. The train I get in the morning has only moved four minutes later, but the train I usually get home is now completely different. Will have to experiment a bit to find one home that works as well as the last one did – the most convenient one now involves two changes as opposed to none on the old timetable.

I would hope people will not try to milk the compensation scheme during the first few days of the changeover. There are bound to be teething troubles as the new routes and services settle down. Thameslink [and its interconnections] is one of the most complex railway operations in Europe, if not in the world. Getting so many trains from diverse origins through the central core between London Bridge and Farringdon and on to a variety of destinations at unprecedentedly close headways will be a massive challenge. The correct presentation of each train at each junction is the key, so one small slip can have extensive repercussions.

I expect passenger discipline will have to be stepped up so that people board quickly and trains depart bang on time – no lingering; expect more blasts on the whistle from the despatch staff. The longer trains will increase capacity but some timings will need to be extended to ensure the trains approach London in the right order to preserve connections. This is all made possible by digital control of the signalling and trains and it should be a great benefit when fully implemented. The Southern and South Eastern networks have a long history of complex routing and timetabling and it will be interesting to see how this integrates with the Great Northern and Midland services on the northern side of London. I am looking forward to being able to go from Norwich to Brighton in future with only one change of train [at Cambridge].

” I would hope people will not try to milk the compensation scheme during the first few days of the changeover.“.
I nearly said something similar, John, but tempered my comment. It does irritate me when any opportunity seems to be taken to take advantage of a situation without looking at the other side of the picture – what should be a huge improvement in rail services.

No mention in the intro of why there are sweeping timetable changes, not even a link. Why can Which? not adopt a more balanced and informative attitude?

Hi Malcolm. We did mention that the changes are a part of RailPlan2020, which intends to enhance the service. I’ve added a link in there so people can go straight through if they wish. Here it is for reference:


@gmartin, thanks George. I didn’t know what RailPlan2020 involved, and maybe others outside London did not either, so thought it worth linking to the background. Otherwise people might have thought it was simply massive tinkering with a timetable for its own sake.

You’re welcome – I agree. Hope it has more context now but let me know if you think of any questions – always had an interest in rail 🙂

Just finished watching- again – a British Transport Films collection including Points and Aspects and On and Off the Rails. High quality and interesting, overseen by Edgar Anstey.

Major timetable changes are also taking place this weekend on the Northern network with alterations to a high percentage of services. It’s not just commuters in the South East who will be affected bychanges to their regular journeys.

Not a good start this morning: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-44194146

I do not see how such a major change can be accomplished without temporary disruption, as we were warned. If the outcome is improved services, will we run a Convo praising the reorganisation?

I think many people’s major gripe will be the communication. People were of course told to plan ahead for months, only to find a huge number of cancellations just days before the implementation, or on the day itself (journey planners have frequently changed over the last couple of days, amplifying the confusion: https://twitter.com/SouthernRailUK/status/998223891104485381).

It’s been rumoured that the long-term driver shortage is part of the reason, if that’s true then it would mean these changes (and subsequently improvements) would always struggle to be delivered.

However, I’ve always been an advocate of ‘credit where it’s due’ – if we do see improvements (and passengers being given clear advice around their rights) I’d happily update with praise, asking others to describe their positive experiences as well as the negative ones 🙂

@gmartin, thanks George. I agree. However, if all the planning involved in reorganising trains through the capital and associated services took no account of the normal availability of drivers then I’d suggest we need a public inquiry. On reflection, no – that would take far too long.

This report from the DT “Southern Railway’s parent company Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) said it had offered employees a “very generous” four-year pay deal worth 23.8%.

It would take a driver’s base salary from £49,001 to £60,683 for the existing 35-hour, four-day week. Most of Southern’s drivers also work a fifth day as overtime, which tops up their pay by 25 per cent, taking the potential total pay to over £75,000.

I wonder why there is a shortage of people wanting this sort of job, unless the TOC’s cannot afford to pay for any more drivers at these high salaries?.

(“Salaries for more experienced pilots can range from £36,000 to £48,000 in a first officer role. The starting salary for a captain with a medium-sized airline may range from £57,000 to £78,000.

https://www.glassdoor.co.uk › Salaries › Coach Driver
16 Jun 2017 – When factoring in bonuses and additional compensation, a Coach Driver at National Express can expect to make an average total pay of £23,436 .

Positive experiences – I have made more use of trains since I retired and have had a very positive experience. In another Convo I described how I had taken eight trains one day (5 outward and 3 return) and had no problems. It was a pity that the journey was little more than 50 miles but we can blame that on someone for closing some lines back in the 60s.

I’ve even been allowed to travel without penalty twice in one day when I forgot my Senior Railcard.

@afrench, Adam, it’s all gone a bit quiet in the news. Have the timetable changes proved disastrous to services or are they improved?

@afrench, I appreciate that Monday saw a lot of complaints but I have not seen anything online or on the news since then about disruption.

Afternoon Malcolm, hope you’re well. The BBC has covered the ongoing disruption today:


Tom Edwards has also been covering the timetable issues on his Twitter feed – well worth a look here: https://twitter.com/BBCTomEdwards

@gmartin, Hello George – I’m fine thanks (but not a commuter, maybe it would be otherwise 🙁 ). It was said at the outset there would be teething problems. I expect somewhere performance figures will be published to show whether the problems are gradually being ironed out – or not.

Ha, after some of the experiences I’ve had this week I think you’re right! The latest rumour is that this reduced timetable could now be in place until late summer. We’re all hoping that isn’t the case.

The railway timetable shambles continues. Private Eye gives an interesting comment (p14, Dr B Ching).

“The die is cast…when the bidders’ accountants guesstimate what it might cost to meet the specification devised by the mandarins at the Department for Transport (DfT)…….

DfT reckoned at least one bid for the combined Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern mega-franchise in the South-east in 2014 included too many drivers. Govia’s driver-lite bid won, saddling managers with recruitment and training problems which bedevil services to this day……..

DfT also decided GTR was the perfect place for “punch ups” over staffing levels …….by requiring GTR to remove guards from trains.

Perhaps we have incompetence in the Civil Service in drawing up specifications, evaluating bids, interfering with operations, that contributes substantially to the kind of failures and disruption we have seen?

Commercial companies have priorities. One is to make a profit, otherwise they won’t survive. Then, virtually the same level of priority, is to look after their customers and staff.

Today, it is reported, Govia and GWR have cancelled hundreds of rail services because “drivers have made themselves unavailable”. Put down to the World Cup and possibly Wimbledon. Well, they’re not the company (are they?) so that’s alright then.

Seems to me with scandals in (some) education, politics, public organisations, NHS, businesses the common factor is people. Do we need a whole change in attitude to make fairplay and integrity something worth fostering? Or do we just look after self interest and bu**er everyone else?

I am assuming this problem is because the train operating companies are relying on rest-day working in order to maintain services in accordance with the timetable. If the train crew decide they would rather have a day off than perform their rostered rest-day duty they seem to be free to do so without sanction [nice contract of employment]. This cannot be the right way to run a railway and I would tend to put the responsibility for this problem with the management and not with the staff. Malcolm’s previous comment about the Department of Transport ruling out one bid for the Thameslink etc franchise because it included too many drivers and awarding it instead to Govia shows where ultimate responsibility lies. Meanwhile, the passengers waiting on the platforms are stuffed.

I don’t know about rest day working, just reporting what I heard on the radio. But it seems to me that if drivers who may have agreed to work then choose not to because of football, without regard to the effect on their customers, something is wrong.

However, maybe there is another explanation.

I am not suggesting the drivers’ actions are acceptable but if that is the contract under which they work then it should come as no surprise to the management.

There is, of course, a record of bad labour relations with Govia [I don’t think there is the same problem with GWR] and your item from Private Eye explains how the DfT has used the company to pursue its reduced staffing agenda.

Which? Press OPffice today quite rightly says:“Hundreds of passengers have already told us about their nightmare experiences with dangerous overcrowding and these latest figures are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s unacceptable that after fighting to get on a train, passengers are then having to stand in cattle-like conditions..

Perfectly true. One reason for overcrowding is the number of trains available, and their timetabling, at peak times – the “rush hour”. Surely a major improvement could be made by extending the rush hour with staggered working times? How might this be achieved? Incentives for companies and workers to address this?