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Commuters braced ahead of rail timetable change

Train companies will be hoping to avoid a repeat of last year's travel chaos. Credit: PA

Commuters across the UK are bracing themselves as a major train timetable change comes into effect.

Rail companies across Britain are rolling out one of two major timetable changes which take place each year.

The new National Rail summer timetable came into effect on Sunday and sees 1,000 new train services being introduced across the country.

Following last year’s meltdown when the summer timetable was introduced, train companies have been told they must have a “robust contingency plan” in case Sunday’s timetable change leads to chaos as commuters take to the trains on their way to work on Monday.

As the 2019 summer timetable comes into force, travellers are being urged to check departure times before travelling.

Among the operators adding extra services in 2019 are South Western Railway, GTR, Northern, Scotrail and Transport for Wales.

South Western Railway is adding two services to London Waterloo from Portsmouth and Reading.

Northern is introducing a direct service between Chester and Leeds, a weekday service at Gainsborough Central, more trains between Newcastle and Carlisle and "better links" between Cumbria and Manchester Airport.

GTR was fined £5 million by the rail regulator over its poor communication during the fiasco. Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA

Following the May 2018 timetable launch, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and Northern cancelled up to 470 and 310 trains respectively each day, with commuters suffering weeks of disruption on large parts of the network.

A series of failures were blamed for causing the problems last May, including Network Rail’s delayed electrification projects in the North and late approval of the new timetables, poor planning by train operators and the decision by transport ministers to phase in the introduction of new GTR services.

GTR chief executive Charles Horton announced his resignation after the disruption.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was criticised after an ORR investigation found there was a “lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities” and “nobody took charge”.

GTR was fined £5 million by the rail regulator over its poor communication during the 2018 fiasco.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) found that the company “failed to provide appropriate, accurate and timely information” to passengers for an eight-week period.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was criticised after the 2018 chaos. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Darren Shirley, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “The railway has a long way to go to win back passenger confidence, but we hope that the lessons of last year have been learnt and the introduction of the new timetable on Sunday will improve people’s perceptions of the railways, rather than further damaging them.

“In the event that things do go wrong, we would expect the rail industry to have a robust contingency plan so that passengers aren’t left stranded again.”

Industry body the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) insisted lessons have been learned from last year, adding that train companies and Network Rail have worked together to ensure changes are only being made where there is a “high confidence” that the necessary infrastructure, rolling stock and staffing plans are ready.

RDG chief executive Paul Plummer said: “Introducing 1,000 more services a week to meet demand on a congested network poses a significant challenge but we are working together to ensure improvements are introduced with the absolute minimum of disruption.”