Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) has been fined £5 million by the rail regulator over its poor communication with passengers during the chaotic introduction of a new timetable.
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said GTR “failed to provide appropriate, accurate and timely information” amid severe disruption on its Thameslink and Great Northern routes for eight weeks following the launch of the May 2018 timetable.
Some trains were permanently removed from the timetable but this was not made clear to passengers for several weeks, according to the ORR.
Other trains were removed or cancelled on a daily basis, leading to a “severe lack of certainty for passengers up until the point of travel”, the ORR said.
The investigation also found that inadequate internal communication within GTR often left station staff with “little or no information” to help passengers.
These failures left passengers with “very little notice or certainty” about what trains would run.
A separate ORR investigation into Northern, which operates services across northern England, found in many cases passengers were given “inadequate information” in the two weeks that immediately followed the timetable introduction.
But the regulator concluded that the firm “subsequently took reasonable steps” to rectify this, meaning that no further action will be taken in relation to the issue.
The ORR has written to all train companies and Network Rail to require them to review their crisis management plans and ensure appropriate arrangements exist for assisting passengers with disabilities in times of disruption.
Stephanie Tobyn, a deputy director at the regulator, said: “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.”
Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Transport Focus, said: “Passengers were badly let down when the new timetable descended into chaos on some Govia Thameslink Railway and Northern routes, and information was often poor.
“This £5 million fine for Govia Thameslink should be a wake-up call to train companies that accurate passenger information really matters.
“It is important that the money from this fine is reinvested to benefit those passengers who suffered last year.”
The number of trains cancelled each day by GTR and Northern following the May 2018 timetable launch reached up to 470 and 310 respectively.
Train companies, government-owned infrastructure company Network Rail and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling were all blamed for the chaos.
Industry body the Rail Delivery Group insists it has “learned the lessons” from the disruption ahead of another timetable change in May.
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 chief executive Patrick Verwer 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 stand-by 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 £18 million in passenger compensation and is investing a further £15 million in improvements for passengers for its part in the timetable issues.”