The operator of Thameslink and Southern trains is facing a £5million fine because of how it provided information during a period of severe disruption to services last year.
Massive timetable changes introduced in May 2018 led to weeks of chaos for passengers using services run by Govia Thameslink Railway.
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has been investigating whether GTR did everything possible to provide accurate information so people could plan and make their journeys, both in the run up to the timetable changes and during the disruption that followed.
The investigation found that following the changes and in the eight weeks that followed GTR ‘failed to appropriately balance the steps it was taking to improve services with the need for passenger information to an unacceptable extent and duration’.
• Trains were permanently removed from the timetable but passengers were not clearly informed until several weeks later
• Further trains were removed or cancelled on a daily basis leading to very short notice changes to the timetable and a severe lack of certainty for passengers up until the point of travel
• Some trains were reintroduced but with insufficient time to input journey information into systems. These ‘ghost trains’ arrived at stations with staff and passengers unaware of their arrival or where they were expected to stop
• Replacement buses were used on some routes but prolonged delays in providing information in journey planners meant many passengers weren’t aware that they were available
• Inadequate internal communication often left frontline staff with little or no information to assist passengers in making their journey.
The effect of these failures left passengers with very little notice or certainty about whether trains that were running on one day would run or be the same the following day.
Patrick Verwer, GTR’s chief executive officer, said: “We are disappointed at today’s fine imposed by the Office of Rail and Road.
“We are making significant improvements to information for passengers.
“These include upgrades to station screens, issuing frontline staff with new smartphones loaded with real-time service information, and we have volunteer teams on standby to help passengers during disruption. Further improvements in customer information are planned.
“The severe disruption following last May’s timetable introduction was due to industry-wide factors and we are sorry for the serious effect this had on our passengers.
“GTR has paid £18m in passenger compensation and is investing a further £15m in improvements for passengers for its part in the timetable issues.”
ORR has written to all train companies and Network Rail to require them to review crisis management plans in light of these findings and to ensure that appropriate arrangements exist for assisting passengers with disabilities in times of disruption, planned and unplanned.
Stephanie Tobyn, deputy director for consumers at the ORR, “The disruption experienced by many passengers as a result of the May timetable introduction was awful. When disruption happens, poor quality information makes an already difficult and frustrating situation worse.
“The exceptional circumstances that followed the introduction of the timetable meant that providing perfect advance information for passengers was from the outset an impossible task and GTR’s overriding focus was on providing as much capacity as it could to meet customer demand. However persistent and prolonged failures in information provision meant that passengers couldn’t benefit from the operational improvement it was trying to make.”