Plan ahead? Rail passengers hit by uncertainty

Parts of the rail industry need an overhaul to adapt to 'the unpredictability of the times’, Network Rail has said after it emerged that one operator was not allowing advance tickets to be bought for the beginning of next month.

In addition, full details of the new national rail timetable, which is due to begin in less than a month, have not been published, despite an industry pledge that passengers should be able to book up to 12 weeks in advance.

London Bridge station, February 2021

Avanti West Coast, which operates services between stations such as London Euston, Birmingham and Glasgow, has not yet confirmed its timetable from 1 May onwards.

According to the firm’s website, tickets from 1-7 May are currently not available to book via its booking engine, with the timetable for these dates ‘due to be confirmed from 22 April’. The National Rail website also shows tickets for journeys with this operator on these dates are unavailable.

Avanti’s website also shows that the timetable for 8-14 May is due to be confirmed from 26 April, while the timetable for 15-16 May is due to be published only a week beforehand, on 7 May.

Tickets are available for other dates up to 12 July, except for weekends from 29 May until 4 July.

An Avanti spokesperson told Transport Network: ‘We are unable to make Advance fares and reservations available until the timetable is confirmed. We advise customers to check the Avanti West Coast website for details of when the timetable will be confirmed for their travel date.’

A Network Rail spokesperson told Transport Network: ‘Passengers should rightly be able to book their trains in advance and we accept timetables being published at short notice isn’t good enough.

‘The pandemic has pushed Network Rail and train operators to be more agile and innovative than ever before. However, it has exposed parts of the industry, like ticketing, which need a complete overhaul so they can adapt to the unpredictability of the times we are in and be fit for the needs of passengers as we welcome them back to the railway in the coming months.’

Despite the absence of a confirmed timetable, it appears to be possible to buy tickets for other rail operators beyond 15 May, although it varies significantly between operators.

A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) said: 'During the pandemic, rail companies have delivered multiple timetable changes so that services remained resilient and the network is run efficiently.'

'This means that some services have not been available to book as far in advance as usual. As the country steps out of lockdown, we are carefully monitoring passenger numbers and are planning a further uplift next month when restrictions are due to be relaxed again.'

The National Rail website, run by the RDG, states: ‘Normally, the timetable for any particular day is confirmed 12 weeks in advance. For a temporary period Network Rail isn’t able to do this, instead confirming timetables 3 to 4 weeks in advance.’

Watchdog Transport Focus told Transport Network it 'wants the industry to get back to having timetables correct 12 weeks in advance as soon as possible'.

Railway works in Leeds

Engineering works add to disruption

Separately, infrastructure operator National Rail has announced that it will carry out upgrades over the bank holiday weekend from 1 to 3 May.

Chief executive Andrew Haines said: ‘The majority of the railway will be open for business as usual for those travelling by train, but some routes will be affected by the works taking place, so we urge everyone to plan their journeys in advance.’

Among the planned works are ‘track renewals and HS2 preparatory works on the West Coast Mainline to improve track reliability’, with no trains to or from London Euston from 1 to 3 May. This is a period for which the timetable has not been confirmed and passengers are unable to buy advance tickets.

David Sidebottom, director of watchdog Transport Focus, said: ‘For many of us, the May bank holiday weekend will be one of the first opportunities to meet friends and family and make leisure trips for many months. Those travelling by train should check their journey in advance.

‘Operators need to make it clear which routes are affected by engineering works and how. They should also provide information on how busy services are expected to be. This allows passengers to decide whether they are comfortable travelling if social distancing may not always be possible.’

Other works over the early May bank holiday weekend are:

  • As part of the East Coast Upgrade, enhancement works taking place between London King’s Cross and New Barnet/Belle Isle to improve passenger safety and boost capacity. A temporary reduced timetable will be in operation and platforms 7-11 at King’s Cross will be out of use.
  • Drainage works between Preston and Carnforth that will improve track quality. Northern services in the area will be impacted on Sunday 2 and Monday 3 May.
  • Track renewals, structures works, footbridge strengthening and platform remodelling between London Liverpool Street and Chelmsford and between Shenfield and Southend Victoria to improve infrastructure reliability and prepare for the introduction of Crossrail services. Greater Anglia, TfL Rail and London Overground services will be affected.
  • Resignalling and track upgrade work at London Victoria to improve passenger safety. As a result there will be no Southern trains running to/from London Victoria.
  • Track renewals and remodelling works between West Hampstead and Mill Hill Broadway to enable one of the platforms for the new Brent Cross station to be built. As a result, some Thameslink and East Midlands Railway services will be slightly reduced.

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