Disbelief and discontent over rail timetable delays

Passenger groups have reacted angrily to news that hundreds of train timetables are likely to be published later than usual.

Rail users are normally told about new timetables 12 weeks in advance, enabling them to book cheap tickets. But the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) has announced that over the next six months passengers may get as little as four weeks’ notice of new train times. It blamed a huge number of timetable changes coming up in May. The change will happen from this Sunday, 12 weeks ahead of the new Spring timetable, and is likely to affect travellers for at least six months. Passenger groups predicted there would be “real disbelief and discontent” about the lack of advance information. The chief executive of Transport Focus, Anthony Smith, said:

Passengers have been badly let down and will be deeply frustrated that they can’t make plans with certainty. They are also at risk of paying more.

Cheap advance fares usually become available three months before travel, meaning that some passengers could book their tickets, but find that cheaper fares become available nearer the time of travel. Some train operators are said to be furious about the late publication of timetables. The Office of Rail and Road – the industry regulator – said it would be conducting an informal enquiry into what had gone wrong. In theory it has the power to fine Network Rail, although that would be seen as a measure of last resort. The RDG – which represents both the train operators and Network Rail – said the May timetable change was “the biggest in living memory”, with the rescheduling of almost four million services, seven times more than usual. It also said there were significant delays with engineering works, such as the electrification of the line between Manchester and Preston.

We recognise this will be inconvenient for some passengers and can only apologise that we’ve had to take this step,

said Jo Kaye a managing director at Network Rail. The RDG said the problems would only affect passengers “in a small number of instances”. Normally only 2% of passengers book more than six weeks in advance. It is advising rail users to book their tickets as usual, and then claim a refund if a cheaper fare is subsequently available. Those whose train service is cancelled will be eligible for a full refund.