Train operator forced to cancel services on first day of major timetable shakeup

Mike Wright
Great Western Railway cancelled around 20 services due to staff shortages - Getty Images Europe

A rail operator was forced to amend its timetable on day one of a huge shake-up due to staff shortages. Great Western Railway (GWR) cancelled around 20 services yesterday after it said it did not have enough crews to man its trains.

The disruption came on the first day of the biggest overhaul of GWR’s timetable since 1976, which will see more and faster services running between London and Bristol, as well as other parts of the South West.

Disgruntled passengers branded the cancellations on the first day of the supposedly improved service ‘a joke’ and said the situation ‘couldn’t be made up’. 

On Sunday morning, the rail operator announced: “Due to staff shortages an amended timetable is in place today affecting some services. Please check [the timetable] before travelling as some changes will be made at short notice.”

The announcement sparked anger from passengers who said services they had planned to catch had suddenly disappeared from the timetable.

One, Cat Mogford, said on Twitter: “You guys are a joke. Staff up and provide the service we pay too much for. Seriously.”

Another passenger, Craig Murphy replied: You couldn't make this up. What company schedules a service without ensuring they have enough staff to function?” 

GWR said that Sunday’s crew shortages was partly caused by old contracts that do not allow some staff to work weekends.

The train company said that issue was compounded by the service having to run a diversionary route that only some staff were qualified to operate.

A GWR spokesman said: “We've made changes to some services because of a higher than normal number of staff are not available to work on one of the diverted routes operating today. 

“While newer GWR contracts include Sunday working, not all railway workers are contracted to work on Sundays. GWR is working with colleagues and trade unions to make Sunday contracted hours more consistent across the business.

“The new timetable itself is operating well, with our public performance measure currently at over 90 percent.”

Although some of GWR’s timetable changes came into force on Sunday, the operator said the majority were starting today as they were aimed at the main commuter services.

The new timetable looks to take advantage of the franchise’s new, faster Intercity Express Trains and improved rail infrastructure between London and Bristol, which will cut journey times between the capital and Bristol Temple Meads station by as much as 17 minutes.

GWR's new  Intercity Express Trains, which were first introduced in the summer Credit:  Rob Thomas

From today, the number of trains running from Bristol to London Paddington will increase from two to three an hour during morning and evening peak times. 

As part of the upgrade, the company said new trains between Cardiff and Bristol would increase the number of seats on weekday journeys by more than 1,800.

The operator said that it had taken on 350 more on-board staff and trained more than 1,200 drivers ahead of introducing the new services.

GWR’s timetable shakeup comes amid a wider national overhaul, with Northern, Greater Anglia and TransPennine Express all introducing significant changes this week.  

The independent passenger watchdog, Transport Focus, said that train operators needed to be upfront with passengers who would lose out due to the timetable shakeup. 

Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, said: “This time around passengers need the rail industry to deliver a smooth set of timetable improvements – so they can reliably use both new and existing services.

“Many passengers should have a greater choice of services with more seats as a result of these changes. However, there will also be some who lose out with fewer or slower services.

“Train companies must have plenty of visible staff on hand to guide passengers, to answer questions on how these changes will affect them, and to explain what travel choices they have.”