Rail passengers have been advised to check times before travelling from Sunday as train operators prepare for a fresh timetable change, following months of scrutiny and preparation to avert the chaos that engulfed the railways last May.
The biggest changes will come on South Western Railway (SWR) from Monday, with hundreds of extra services a week from the home counties into Waterloo station in London. Nationwide, more than 1,000 extra services a week will be introduced into the timetable.
The industry hopes it has learned the lessons from a series of reviews into last year’s debacle, when there were widespread cancellations and severe delays – particularly on Govia Thameslink Railway and Northern services, where the bulk of the changes occurred.
Caution rather than ambition is now the watchword, as the original introduction of services has been phased into a more gradual rollout, with a cross-industry project management office monitoring each operator’s plans and the infrastructure around the country.
Some of the planned new SWR commuter services from the south coast have already been postponed due to problems with automatic doors on refurbished rolling stock.
Andy Mellors, the managing director of SWR, said: “Until this issue is rectified we cannot put the trains into service and risk passenger injury.” He said they expected to suspend no more than 10 of the 300 planned new services each week.
The Rail Delivery Group, which represents the operators and Network Rail, said changes were being made only where there was high confidence that the necessary infrastructure, rolling stock and staff were ready. It said firms would closely monitor the services and respond quickly to any disruption, with extra staff on hand and Network Rail rapid response teams on standby at key locations.
Paul Plummer, the chief executive of the RDG, said the change was a significant challenge, but the industry was “focused on maintaining reliability”, adding: “We know that running more services cannot come at the expense of running a punctual railway.”
Andrew Jones, the rail minister, said he believed the railways were on track for a smooth change next week after a “dreadful time” last year. He said: “I am very confident because we have seen a change in procedures and collaboration in the industry. It’s a 40-week process, and we’ve seen the importance of sticking to the countdown. That countdown slipped last time, and this time it hasn’t.”
Passenger groups called for a robust contingency plan. Anthony Smith, the chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said there should be a single person in charge of major timetable changes “to ensure robust oversight and with the power to hit the stop button when something is not going to work”.