Holy Grails and Thameslink Fails (part 2): The plan that went wrong

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In looking at why the new May national rail timetable went so horribly wrong in the case of Thameslink and Great Northern services, it is necessary to look not only at the immediate causes but also the underlying problems that helped steer the bad ship Disaster towards the rocks. In doing so we find a contrast with how the original Thameslink scheme was successfully introduced without fuss as recorded in part 1.

With a Transport Select Committee having looked at the issue and an inquiry commissioned by the Secretary of State to investigate what happened we don’t claim that we can pre-empt all the answers. But we are beginning to build up an understanding what went on thanks to analysis, informative talks, information provided to us and attendance at the most recent London Travelwatch meeting.

When looking at issues such as this it is hard to know how far to go back and how helpful it is to delve into the past. After all, one can produce a case for giving privatisation of the railways as a factor but such blame can neither be conclusive nor helpful given that it is not easy to turn the clock back and there is no fundamental reason why the timetable should not have worked on a privatised railway.

Problems at the commencement of franchise

Probably the most sensible place to start is with the commencement of the franchise to Govia Thameslink Railway in 2014. Looking back to that time, four potential causes for concern stand out when considering the future introduction of the 2018 timetable. As it turned out, two were resolved and two continued to cause problems in 2018.

The four potential issues were then:

  • The challenge of the December 2018 timetable as then planned
  • The archaic reliance on Rest Day Working
  • The Wimbledon Loop decision
  • Too few drivers

Driver shortage – resolved

We have highlighted the issue of too few drivers before. This was most notably a problem in July 2016 when Southern (part of the new GTR franchise) were forced to introduced a revised timetable due to lack of drivers. The primary cause of the issue was that DfT had not intervened to stop GTR’s predecessors for the previous Thameslink franchise, First Capital Connect, from cancelling their driving recruitment programme the moment then knew they would not get the Thameslink franchise. Once they took over, GTR found that that they were considerably short of the total number of drivers they expected to have to cover the various different train companies in their charge (Thameslink, Great Northern, Gatwick Express and Southern).

It took a lot of hard work and a massive recruitment programme by GTR to overcome this problem but now GTR insists that shortage of drivers as such is not an issue and they are currently actually over establishment – incidentally, Northern Rail say the same thing. Whether the establishment level is the correct realistic number of drivers a franchise requires is another matter – possibly not, in this case, as we shall see.

Wimbledon Loop – not a problem in this case

In a similar way, there was concern back in 2013 that the decision to continue with through Thameslink trains on the Wimbledon loop would make a future Thameslink timetable difficult to either implement or be an impediment on trains running to schedule with huge potential for knock-on effects. It seems that this has had no bearing on the May 2018 timetable implementation. The only notable impact when it comes to delayed trains is that trains on this route may omit stops more often than on other routes due to the lack of a terminus at which a short delay can be recovered from. There have, unfortunately, been quite a lot of cancellations – but for a different reason.

Rest Day Working – the problem never tackled

We have covered the issue of reliance on Rest Day Working before. This is rather insidious and tends not to be recognised as an issue unless the unions put a ban on rest day working – which in the case of GTR they have not done so on the run up to the May 2018 timetable (although they did temporarily withdraw from a rest day working agreement in the case of Northern Rail). Rest Day Working is really a 20th century hangover from British Rail when employees’ attitudes were very different.

The reason rest day working is relevant to the May timetable problems is because even though, nationwide, it is less relied on for Sunday working, it is still the case that there is a culture of expecting drivers to learn new routes on their rest days. Not surprisingly, many drivers do not want to do this and, of course, they are under no obligation to do so. It must be a total anachronism in the 21st century that a significant level of on-the-job compulsory retraining is expected to be undertaken outside the normal working week.

Even if drivers were willing, in principle, to work rest days for route training, it does not appear to be a very practical means of learning an entire new route given the amount of training required. If one had to learn a complete new Thameslink route that could well amount to 25-30 days. At one rest day worked per week, one is looking to start learning a route six months in advance of being proficient on it. Realistically, it would be better to start learning around nine months to a year in advance of needing to be competent on driving on a completely new route.

If one knows in advance that a lot of route learning is required then perhaps the establishment level of drivers needs to be temporarily higher than it is. Drivers are very expensive but necessary. Following on from route learning, at some point in the future will be ATO training (another four days) so the requirement for more drivers than a normal establishment number would be ongoing.

In addition, if there genuinely are temporarily spare drivers then good use can still be made of them. Some more experienced drivers can, if willing, be trained to be driver instructors – GTR have never had enough of these. They can learn additional routes which always helps planning and operational flexibility. Even if a driver’s knowledge of a route lapses he can relearn it a lot quicker than starting afresh.

In the unlikely event that a TOC still has spare drivers then other traditional activities such as seeing what happens in a signal centre or giving talks to school children on the dangers of being on the railway can mean that time can be usefully, if not strictly productively, used. In practice a genuine surplus of drivers can be quickly rectified by a temporary freeze on recruitment and allowing natural wastage and retirement to take its course.

We suspect that a problem with having the desired number of drivers ideal for a major route reorganisation is that it would make a bid for a franchise look less attractive. The DfT will probably not give sufficient credit in a franchise bid for the applicant who proposes the additional cost of increasing driver numbers beyond a regular establishment number in order to help ensure the smooth introduction of a new radical timetable.

The timetable as intended around 2014

A fundamental problem with the Thameslink franchise from the outset was the timetable. The main issue was that it just was not known if one could produce a workable timetable for 24tph through the Thameslink core. In one sense we still don’t since, if all planned trains were running in the current timetable as originally intended, we are only up to 18tph.

The DfT have pointed out that none of the four bidders produced a timetable that was compliant with the bid requirements. It seems that one reason GTR was selected was that their proposed timetable was less non-compliant than the others. Nowadays, as part of the process, Network Rail not only scrutinise timetables put forward as part of a franchise bid but can theoretically actually veto the franchise application if they believe the timetable cannot work.

Another reason that GTR was awarded the franchise was that their bid seriously addressed the issue of making a 24tph timetable work by planning to recruit experts from elsewhere both in and outside the UK. Unfortunately, it appears that, unknown for sure by anyone at the time, a timetable that worked to the DfT’s requirements was just not possible. The main problem was getting the necessary number of trains through Windmill Bridge Junction just north of East Croydon.

One can, of course, wonder why the DfT put forward an Invitation To Tender (ITT) based on a premise that was false – namely, that you could run the necessary number of trains through Windmill Bridge Junction and East Croydon. One feels that it was a case of ‘this has to work – there is no obvious alternative option’. At least there was no obvious alternative option without straying off GTR territory which was the main reason for making the franchise area so large. It would perhaps be unkind to point out that had the Uckfield branch been electrified this might not have been an issue.

Equally, one can wonder why it took so long for GTR to say that the originally proposed timetable for December 2018 could never work and come up with an alternative suggestion. Many in the railway industry were stunned when in the summer of 2016 GTR proposed an alternative route to Rainham (Kent) for 2tph. Whilst there was a good rationale behind it (and also the prospect of better fare receipts) such a major change at such a late time seemed to be inviting trouble – even if the option was better than sticking to the original plan.

So far bad – but rectifiable

The problems with the original flawed timetable and assumed reliance on rest day working were not fatal. Like a lot of the problems that surface, they can be resolved if other things go right. But, as things go wrong, the exposure to risk is increased as new, less reliable, options are brought into play in order to deal with early failures in the plan.

You gotta have trains

The next really big thing to go wrong is train delivery and it is a mystery to us why this has not been identified as a major cause of the problems that developed. Indeed it does seem that delayed delivery and that failure to introduce a workable remedial plan to cater for this is the biggest factor in what was to develop.

As a reminder, the order for the Thameslink trains was originally given to Siemens in 2013. It came from the DfT and GTR had no involvement at this stage. These trains were due to start being introduced into service from 2016 to give time to build-up to full service by December 2018. This would provide the necessary time for train acceptance and driver training. It would also mean that route learning would take place using the trains to be used for that route. This is always, by far, the preferable way of doing things.

Things started going horribly wrong when it came to arranging finance to pay for the trains. Due to the state of the world economy this was becoming very difficult and it took one day short of two years for the DfT to confirm the order. The extraordinary delay was caused by Siemens and the DfT having great difficulty in arranging a suitable mutually-acceptable finance package.

It is notable that, around this time, the DfT gave TfL approval to buy the planned Crossrail trains outright, contrary to the original plan, rather than risk the same problems being encountered with Crossrail stock. Perhaps, the prospect of no trains at all when a new line was due to open was more serious than no new trains for an existing, but enhanced, route.

The Audit Office were highly critical of the delay in the ordering of new trains. One does wonder if things would have been very different if, in 2013, the DfT fully appreciated the risks involved in delaying purchasing the trains and agreed to buy them outright – as with the Crossrail trains. One can understand the reluctance as £2.5 billion for trains and maintenance facilities upfront is a lot of money to find when unbudgeted for but ultimately the government chose not to take that option so needs to accept the consequences of their decision making.

Bland assurances were made that the Thameslink Programme was still achievable and there were heavy penalties for Siemens if they could not meet the proposed schedule. Of course, putting penalty clauses in contracts is no guarantee of ensuring schedules are met and the manufacturer may well factor the penalties into the costs rather than strive to eliminate them or decline the order.

Graphic evidence

Planned and actual delivery and acceptance of Thameslink trains

As the graph shows, acceptance of new trains was, literally, always behind the curve when compared to when the trains should have been ready for service. Delivery of the first units starts off on schedule in July 2015 but the first units had numerous faults of which most were related to software.

The first unit was scheduled for acceptance in December 2015 but this was around six months late. The initial pace of production was slow, as intended, but after unit 7 was delivered it was ramped up. However, Siemens never managed to deliver (thick orange line) as quickly as was planned (dotted orange line).

By mid 2016, Siemens was not even managing to deliver units prior to their planned acceptance date (dotted blue line). Meanwhile, the time taken to get a unit accepted was excessive (around six months) which led to moratorium on accepting vehicles until basic faults were rectified. This led to a continual improvement in the build quality of later builds until, towards the end of the delivery programme, acceptance was achieved within a matter of days after delivery – as it should have been from the start.

One has to bear in mind that the Thameslink vehicles are the first of a new generation of rolling stock which has software at the heart of the train. This is not just for things like public address but to control most aspects of driving, door opening, acceleration and braking. The driver, of course, only knows that he has a problem when driving a train for acceptance testing. He or she cannot know whether or not software is the underlying cause.

It is believed that around 70% of the problems identified required a software fix. Siemens had a tendency not to ‘batch up’ software for necessary for resolving issues which is standard (and sensible) industry practice used by other rolling stock manufacturers. Instead, Siemens attempted to fix problems as they occurred – a practice that might appear outwardly sensible and can be appropriate in some areas of manufacturing.

Failure to ‘batch up’ considerably increased the overall testing workload. It is notable on the graph (and the graph below) that towards the end of the delivery programme, once software issues were fully addressed and ‘batched up’ for implementation, the acceptance time dropped down to a few days.

Maybe the train acceptance delays should not be a surprise with the first of a fairly radical new fleet of trains and this should have been allowed for. Certainly, Bombardier don’t appear to be doing any better with delays with their class 345 (Crossrail) stock and, more particularly, class 710 (London Overground stock for Goblin replacement and elsewhere).

In simple terms, even with the revised schedule due to delays in the initial order, class 700 Thameslink trains were being delivered roughly when they should have been in service. In some cases the delay between when they should have been delivered (dotted orange line) and when they were accepted (thick blue line) was around a year when it should have been just a few days. The late delivery on top of the severely delayed order had two main consequences.

Inactions have consequences

The first consequence of late delivery was that running the trains until they had delivered sufficient fault-free mileage meant that one required a lot of drivers in a short period of time. This was made worse by the fact that the number of hours that needed to be accumulated to ensure sufficient fault-free miles was considerably more than expected due to issues with build quality. And, every time a fault was discovered the acceptance mileage counter goes back to zero.

GTR came up with a partial solution which was to employ surplus GB Railfreight drivers to do much of the initial class 700 acceptance testing. Unfortunately this could only take place in the GTR area using spare trains paths and mileage could not be accumulated quickly. It also meant that, on occasions, these train paths could not be used for driver training.

This, of course, meant that priority on learning to drive a class 700 train was given not to GTR drivers who would eventually drive them in service but to drivers not route-trained on GTR routes and not trained to drive trains with passengers in them. In other words, great for catching up on acceptance testing but no use for either driver training or driver experience with the new rolling stock.

The second consequence of late rolling stock delivery was simply that there was a shortage of trains actually available, as in surplus to what was needed for day-to-day passenger requirements, to facilitate GTR driver training on the required rolling stock.

The above diagram indicates the complexity and scope of the driver training plan. The black horizontal line shows where GTR hoped to be by the day of the timetable change and the orange horizontal line shows where in reality they actually got to.

Not managing traffic management

At around the same time as the trains were being delivered late there was no sign of the Traffic Management System being delivered at all. Traffic Management Systems are a relatively new concept designed to take tasks such as regular route setting and managing train cancellations away from the signaller or controller so that fewer mistakes are made and the supervisors are not overwhelmed by mundane tasks.

Now, a Traffic Management System was not regarded as essential at this stage of Thameslink introduction but that was presuming a reasonable service was operating. What appears to have happened in the first few weeks of the new timetable is that so much out of course working (cancellations, delays, reinstatements) takes place that signallers and controllers become overwhelmed. To take a simple mundane example, a train to East Grinstead is cancelled but the ‘the system’, as currently installed, does not recognise that it then follows that the train must also be cancelled from East Grinstead since there is no stock at East Grinstead to run it.

The intention for Network Rail to have a Traffic Management System introduced prior to the enhanced Thameslink service was extensively reported in the railway press – as were the delays. Our understanding is that the plan was it would be installed by January 2018 and it would be fully up and running by May 2018. It also appears that GTR was relying on this when deciding on the number of controllers to manage the Thameslink system. In particular, GTR were aware of how challenging the first few days would be for controllers (even if everything else worked perfectly) when the new timetable was introduced. This is a period when controllers cannot rely on previous experience and a traffic management system would have helped reduce the impact of the chaos that was taking place by supplying better information and applying pre-determined rules.

The full Thameslink timetable with 24tph will be challenging but in the opinion of many it is a goal worth striving for. Things are bound to go wrong but it is important to have the tools in place to try and minimise the risk of minor operational errors that lead to problems and to enable recovery to take place as quickly as possible. Unfortunately those tools to assist the decision makers simply aren’t there and seem to show no signs of appearing. One could, of course, blame the suppliers for over-promising, Network Rail for not scrutinising suppliers more carefully or GTR for being too reliant on technology that simply didn’t exist.

A further timetable issue

Rather belatedly, at some point in 2017, it was publicised that there would be serious conflict between the East Midlands Trains timetable and the proposed Thameslink one. As with Windmill Bridge is it a bit puzzling why this wasn’t discovered earlier. Thameslink might only be sending a maximum of 15tph up the Midland Main Line (the same as before) but the duration was longer and the off-peak service was improved. On top of that the Thameslink timetable had to dovetail in with the East Coast Main Line so things were getting rather complicated.

What makes the matter worse was that each company (Thameslink and East Midland Trains) have different objectives. Some of these are down to franchise specifications which is down to the DfT and there is nothing to indicate that any analysis was done to ensure that the different franchise specifications were compatible.

When the crunch should have come

From April 2016 there were people within the industry who could see that that a May 2018 timetable change just was not a realistic proposition and by Christmas 2016 it was, to them, beyond doubt it was not feasible – largely due to the extreme delays in rolling stock delivery. Yet clearly those at the top either thought it was still possible – or they were powerless to stop it.

The Canal Tunnels saga

The problems just kept on coming.

The next big problem was a new section of track and its delayed opening – the Canal Tunnels. The Canal Tunnels are two tunnels that stretch from just north of St Pancras Thameslink to ‘Belle Isle’ north of King’s Cross so that Thameslink trains can join the East Coast Main Line. They were actually built as part of HS1 and prior to the approval of the Thameslink Programme although they were not fitted out.

Network Rail fitted out the tunnels with track and signalling in good time as they were needed for empty stock movements to and from the new Thameslink depot at Hornsey. From here it is hard to get to the truth but it seems that it was only empty coaching stock (ECS) that was permitted. Use of the tunnels appeared not to be authorised for passenger trains in service and, it is believed, train movements solely for the purpose of route training were not permitted either.

Without any evidence, we suspect that GTR would have liked to have started training drivers in the Canal Tunnels between Christmas 2017 and New Year 2018 when major engineering work at London Bridge would have severely curtailed the demand for drivers to operate passenger trains in service.

The problem would appear to be that Network Rail didn’t understand, or couldn’t respond to, the urgency. In fact they were planning to have the tunnels available for passenger traffic in April 2018. This would have given far too little time for sufficient driver training to enable a robust service to be run.

In the event, after a lot of pressure from GTR we are told, the tunnels were approved for use by mid February enabling GTR to start a ‘preview’ service through the tunnels on the 26th February. This preview service did not build up to nearly the level of service that passengers were led to believe was due to happen and it is clear that full advantage was not taken of the tunnels when they were available for use.

It is worth mentioning that Network Rail has some ‘form’ for underestimating time taken for others to familiarise themselves with new infrastructure and get it approved for use. At the same time as this was happening, TfL Rail were attempting to introduce 9-car Crossrail trains between Hayes & Harlington and Paddington. Network Rail promised to have the critical bay platform at Hayes & Harlington extended to 9-cars in late April and they stuck to their word. But TfL Rail are currently only running 7-car Crossrail trains because the route hasn’t yet been approved by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) for 9-car trains.

The complexity of the depots

There was one further major problem for GTR by the end of 2017 and for once it could be argued that it was very much a self-inflicted wound. GTR had decided to introduce the Rainham route which was well outside existing GTR territory. Many routes on the Midland Main Line stopped short of Bedford yet Bedford was where the main GTR depot was on the Midland Main Line. This was not good if Thameslink was to run self-contained routes which was the (very sensible) plan so as not to propagate delays from one route to another.

Basically, throughout the Thameslink routes, depots were not all in the right places. GTR was keen to sort this out once and for all. They were possibly spurred on by the Gibb report recommending more but smaller depots and knowing how, at the time, the Secretary of State was keen to implement as many of Chris Gibb’s recommendations as possible. A further (very sensible) desire appears to be to have the depots at the outer ends of the routes where possible in order to minimise dead mileage first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

Northern Thameslink Depots with changes highlighted in red

The above table highlights the extent of depot changes in the north. Rather than have everything for the Midland Main Line concentrated at Bedford, depots were to be better distributed. From next May drivers from Hitchin Great Northern depot who transfer to Thameslink will be based at Welwyn.

The problem was that the depot changes had been left very late. In some cases it was a case of essential temporary accommodation only being placed on site days before the start of the new service. If that wasn’t bad enough, the plan required GTR drivers who knew certain existing Thameslink routes needing to be trained for new routes whilst elsewhere other drivers would be needed to be trained on the routes that the displaced drivers did know.

The above table shows the completion date for the depots in the northern area in the penultimate column. Note that Welwyn is not yet ready as it is not yet required. The final column shows the availability of class 700 stock at the depot.

Southern Thameslink Depots with changes highlighted in red

It is a similar story on the southern side. Here it is more a case of depots being increased to accommodate the extra Thameslink services although Blackfriars (counted as on the south side through stradling the river) closes due to the desire to avoid driver changes at any station that will ultimately have to handle 24tph.

When it comes to depot and train readiness, it is mostly a better picture on the southern side but the lack of trains at Gillingham will obviously cause problems.

The scale of driver training unpreparedness

What seems to be inexplicable was how the considerable amount of driver training that was needed was not being successfully tackled. As the chart below shows, routes had to be moved from other railways companies to Thameslink. Along with the routes came the transfer of some drivers. Whilst Southern and Great Northern were part of the same franchise (remember this is part of why the franchise was so big), Southeastern was not – although it was franchise owned by the same company that owned GTR.

The move of drivers from Southeastern appeared to take place very late on and little or no route training was done – though of course they already knew the route from London Bridge to Rainham with the exception of the new approach to London Bridge’s Thameslink platforms.

Another problem which can be identified is the lack of driver route readiness ‘on the other side of the river’. The table below gives an idea of the level of preparedness. One cannot read too much into this. So long as drivers can cover their side of the river it is possible to run a service using two drivers for different legs of the journey but this is undesirable and should be eliminated as quickly as possible. The extent of the problem (when you would expect most boxes to be green) gives an indication of the amount of route learning still to be done before risk factors caused by changing drivers can be eliminated.

Christmas 2017 and it is still ‘go’

Somewhat inexplicably, it appears that as late as Christmas 2017 GTR still thought their plan for the May 2018 timetable would (or at least could) work out fine. This was despite drivers telling them that training should have started at least six months prior to the new timetable. It is not entirely clear why it did not but GTR probably did not have the spare trains and also probably wanted to train the drivers on the routes using spare new class 700 stock.

Despite the delays in acquiring trains accepted into traffic, it is hard to see why drivers weren’t route learning from cabs of existing trains – even if not class 700. There would also be some ability for classroom learning but this appeared not to happen although a route training video of the approach to London Bridge was produced – in one direction only as far as we are aware. We can only presume that GTR were extremely reluctant to bring in a revised timetable to free off some drivers for training so close to Christmas. They probably had bad memories of the last time they introduced revised timetables and the considerable disquiet it caused.

Delays with final timetable approval

GTR (as do Northern Rail) make much of the delay of Network Rail’s timetable which meant they did not know exactly what service they would be operating until about three weeks before the new timetable was due to start.

This explanation, pointing the finger at Network Rail fails to explain why GTR could not have been better prepared despite this. They might not have known all the details and consequently maybe not the exact number of drivers that would be needed for each route but they had much more than a rough idea. It doesn’t explain why on day 1 some Horsham drivers don’t know the route to platforms 4 and 5 at London Bridge let alone all the way to Peterborough.

The final contingency plan

It was clear that GTR weren’t giving up and thought they had a plan to get around the delays in driver training which appear to be largely brought about by the lack of class 700 trains.

At some point fairly early in 2018, certainly well over a month before the timetable change date, GTR were in the midst of a further plan. We don’t know if it was concocted at the 11th hour or whether it was planned much earlier. It was based on the fact that they had some trained drivers for the critical sections where route knowledge was limited. This was basically the approaches to London Bridge from New Cross Gate to Finsbury Park.

GTR also had most of the drivers knowing at least half the route – some the northern half and some the southern half. The idea was that by having new drivers take over at London Bridge or Finsbury Park an individual train service could be covered by two drivers. Any short-term gaps in route knowledge in the centre could be covered by ‘conductor’ or ‘pilot’ drivers who wouldn’t actually drive but would be in the cab ensuring adherence to the relevant signals and speed limits and able to advise what to do in the event of any out of course working – such as being signalled into a platform other than the one booked. The ‘conductors’ would tend to be managers who were trained for the relevant sections of route.

The plan seemed to be an extremely risky one but, in principle, could possibly work on a good day although nothing could overcome the fact that, on certain routes (or halves of routes), there simply were not enough trained drivers. The plan had the big advantage that drivers ought to quickly become trained up on the relatively short critical sections of routes that they did not currently know. In other words, things should get better relatively quickly under this plan.

The risky plan

On the negative side, things always go wrong with the implementation of a new timetable but this one was extremely risky indeed. What if a train turned up at East Croydon, London Bridge or Finsbury Park and the driver did not know the route to continue and no conductor was present? What if the driver for the second half of the route did not turn up? Would controllers make sure they didn’t get into a situation where they sent a driver and a train out that would be unable to complete its journey? If you were short of one driver how many trains would you have to cancel as a consequence? Would the controllers be overwhelmed when things went wrong – as would inevitably happen?

A particular case in point was the route from East Croydon to London Bridge (platforms 4 and 5). Initially a pilot would be needed at East Croydon – the last stop before London Bridge. But before long a driver ought to be familiar enough to pass out from East Croydon to London Bridge platforms 4 and 5 because the only new bit of route he would have to learn would be New Cross Gate to London Bridge. He could then at least drive all the way to London Bridge unescorted which would ease the problem. Once at Blackfriars he would probably be on familiar territory. Once the short section of track, much changed since December 2014, between London Bridge and Blackfriars (and possibly Canal Tunnels) is mastered the driver has done the necessary route learning in order for the ‘two drivers per train journey’ plan to be implemented without additional use of conductors.

One of the reasons the use of conductors and a swap of drivers was extremely risky was because it relied on good rostering to ensure everyone was in the right place at the right time – and if it went wrong in a bad way it would be very hard to sort out. To roster such a complex situation you really need the final version of the timetable and that was something that GTR did not yet have.

Yet more contingency

GTR must have sensed it might go wrong a month or two beforehand because they then started to hire (or rehire) more GB Railfreight drivers to learn the route through the Thameslink core so they could supplement the conductor managers. This they did by means such as watching videos and classroom training. A considerable advantage was that some had actually driven the class 700 trains as part of their mileage accumulation.

Eventually GTR got their final timetable around three weeks before it was due to come into effect. Only now could they finalise details of the rosters and be sure various diagrams did not go over drivers allotted hours and that they had allowed sufficient time to take over the next train. They could also now determine whether ‘conductors’ would make various connections which might influence how many to allocate on a particular route – assuming they had sufficient in the first place.

The stage is set

Why the timetable was so late being approved is a story in itself but it wouldn’t have been so critical if the trains had been delivered on time and all the drivers were both trained to drive the class 700 trains and also route-trained on the complete route that they had been allocated to operate.

With only the Secretary of State having the power to overrule the industry board and cancel or postpone the new timetable it was really only a matter of waiting to find out how many hours the timetable could operate before it would fall over.

The inevitable collapse

Not surprisingly, the timetable completely fell apart on the first Sunday and although the situation has improved somewhat it is still “completely unsatisfactory”. Charles Horton the head of GTR has resigned over the issue but in the official announcement he states

“We are committed to working with the Department for Transport and Network Rail to address recent problems and to deliver a reliable, punctual service for passengers.”

which seems to make it clear he doesn’t think GTR and himself personally are the only people or organisations at fault. Probably, his only sin is not his failure to plan as such but his failure to plan sufficiently for when the plans of others fail.

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Thanks to all who have supplied information to make this article possible especially ngh for considerable research and construction of graphs and tables.

Written by Pedantic of Purley