Thameslink trains fiasco: Rail Minister urged to support Harpenden commuters

Rail Minister Jo Johnson has been urged to support one of two options for long-term improvements to the disrupted Thameslink train services to Harpenden. 

He has been told the “ideal solution” to the current turmoil is the eventual reinstatement of all the axed fast services to and from London.

Alternatively, he has been asked to look at a more “equitable” stopping pattern of peak-hour morning and evening trains on the line. 

This would entail more trains calling at Harpenden than planned while services at other stations would still be enhanced.

The two options have been put before Mr Johnson, the Minister of State for Transport, by St Albans City and District Council.

Mr Johnson met with Councillor Alec Campbell, the Council’s Leader, and Councillor Mary Maynard, Portfolio Holder for Planning, at the House of Commons last week.

He was briefed by them on the impact on the District’s commuters of the failed attempt last month to introduce a new Thameslink timetable. This has resulted in an irregular service with repeated cancellations and more overcrowding.

Operators Govia Thameslink Railways (GTR) now plan to start an interim timetable from July to alleviate the current chaos.  They are still committed, though, to imposing the new timetable at some point in the future.

Mr Johnson asked the Councillors to write to him with their demands on how to improve services.

Cllr Maynard responded yesterday and calls on GTR’s new timetable to be revised because it involves a major reduction in services to Harpenden.

In her letter, she says: “Harpenden commuters are angry.  They have been promised an improved service for decades, have faced above average increases to their cost of travel to pay for these improvements, and have then had their service substantially reduced with no consultation.”

She adds: “With the new timetable, the situation will not improve, trains will still be dangerously over-crowded.

“Clearly the ideal solution would be to have all of the Harpenden ‘fast’ services reintroduced in the July timetable.  Instead of running through Harpenden, trains would stop there as they have always done. 

“The reason this is not happening is because of the edict to Thameslink from your Department that services should run from Bedford to London in 47 minutes.  This would add three minutes to the journey time, which could easily be absorbed by removing the buffer which has been added to journey times to London in the new timetable. 

“In a recent meeting senior GTR management, told Harpenden commuters that if the Secretary of State does not change the 47 minute rule, the most equitable approach would be to change the stopping patterns of morning and evening trains.”

Cllr Maynard says a stopping pattern providing more trains to Harpenden would result in slightly fewer trains elsewhere.

She adds: “St Albans station will continue to obtain improvements on the original pre-May timetable and Harpenden will get no improvements, but it will be no worse. “

In conclusion, she writes: “I urge you to ensure that one of these alternatives is introduced.