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Train Timetable: Hitchin and Harpenden

Volume 641: debated on Thursday 24 May 2018

12. What steps his Department is taking to respond to rail passenger concerns on the introduction of the new timetable for peak-time services in Hitchin and Harpenden. (905557)

The new Thameslink timetable started on Sunday. It brings more frequent and better connected journeys for passengers across London and the south-east. As part of this, rail passengers at Hitchin and Harpenden now have a more regular train service throughout the day than they did previously. The Government, along with the rail industry, are monitoring performance of the new timetable, as well as passenger feedback.

On Monday, the first day of the timetable for commuters, 24% of Hitchin’s services were cancelled and more than 50% were delayed. Please will the Minister reassure me and my constituents that the Department will do everything it can to force Govia Thameslink to improve its performance drastically or be stripped of its franchise?

We are grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing all the issues facing his constituency to our attention, and we look forward to working closely with him in the coming weeks. This week’s timetable changes are the first phase of a totally recast timetable, which will deliver, in time, the full benefits of the £7 billion Thameslink programme.

The new timetable produces winners and losers across the country. Yesterday, the University of Nottingham told me that

“connectivity to London and to the world is crucial to Nottingham attracting jobs, talent and visitors that will drive the future of our economy. We are concerned that the timetable changes will hinder these ambitions.”

That is a clear indictment of the changes forced on East Midlands Trains’ services by this Department in order to accommodate the new Thameslink timetable. What have this Government got against the east midlands that means that, yet again, we are getting a raw deal?

The May 2018 timetable change will see about 90% of our services change. It is perhaps the single biggest timetable change in the country’s history and it will bring an extra 1,300 train services across our network. This is a very significant operational challenge. We recognise the disruption that is temporarily occurring in various places, and we are working carefully with train operators to reduce it as rapidly as possible.

Let me follow up on that question from my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood). Last month, the Secretary of State promised quicker and better train services to Sheffield. As a result of these Thameslink changes, East Midlands Trains says that priority is being given to these new trains on Thameslink services over trains to Sheffield. As a result, peak-time trains to Sheffield are now six to eight minutes slower than they were under the previous timetable—they are slower than they were 10 years ago. Have the Secretary of State’s promises of a month ago already been ditched?

The midlands main line changes and efficiency improvements take place in a rolling way up to 2020, which is when the significant benefits to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency will start to flow through.