ORR fines GTR £5m for breaking rules on passenger information

14 March 2019

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) faces a £5m fine after the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) found that it failed to provide appropriate, accurate and timely information to passengers following the introduction of a new timetable last May.

Following the severe disruption caused by the introduction of the May 2018 timetable and findings from a subsequent independent ORR Inquiry, ORR initiated a further investigation into whether GTR (on its Thameslink and Great Northern routes) and Northern did everything reasonably practicable to provide appropriate, accurate and timely information to enable passengers to plan and make their journeys in both the run-up to the timetable introduction and during the disruption that followed.

Having considered substantial evidence, ORR found that GTR took reasonable steps in making passengers aware of the planned changes prior to the new timetable. However, following the timetable change on 20 May, and in the 8 weeks that followed, it is evident that GTR failed to appropriately balance the steps it was taking to improve services with the need for passenger information to an unacceptable extent and duration. In particular:

  • Trains were permanently removed from the timetable but passengers were not clearly informed until several weeks later
  • Further trains were removed or cancelled on a daily basis leading to very short notice changes to the timetable and a severe lack of certainty for passengers up until the point of travel
  • Some trains were reintroduced but with insufficient time to input journey information into systems. These ‘ghost trains’ arrived at stations with staff and passengers unaware of their arrival or where they were expected to stop
  • Replacement buses were used on some routes but prolonged delays in providing information in journey planners meant many passengers weren’t aware that they were available
  • Inadequate internal communication often left frontline staff with little or no information to assist passengers in making their journey

The effect of these failures left passengers with very little notice or certainty about whether trains that were running on one day would run or be the same the following day.

A separate ORR investigation into Northern found that although in many cases passengers did experience inadequate information in the two weeks that immediately followed the timetable introduction, it had considered and subsequently took reasonable steps in these circumstances to give passengers appropriate, accurate and timely information both prior to and during the disruption.

An interim timetable was introduced on 4 June that stabilised service levels, improved performance, and enabled the provision of better information to passengers. In consideration of these findings no further action will be taken against Northern.

ORR has also today written to all train companies and Network Rail to require them to review crisis management plans in light of these findings and to ensure that appropriate arrangements exist for assisting passengers with disabilities in times of disruption, planned and unplanned.

Stephanie Tobyn, Deputy Director, Consumers, ORR, said:

 "The disruption experienced by many passengers as a result of the May timetable introduction was awful. When disruption happens, poor quality information makes an already difficult and frustrating situation worse.

"The exceptional circumstances that followed the introduction of the timetable meant that providing perfect advance information for passengers was from the outset an impossible task and GTR’s overriding focus was on providing as much capacity as it could to meet customer demand. However persistent and prolonged failures in information provision meant that passengers couldn’t benefit from the operational improvement it was trying to make"

Notes to editors

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GTR & Northern investigation

  1. ORR Investigation report - GTR (March 2019)
  2. GTR now have 21 days to respond to this penalty notice. ORR will take into consideration any representations or objections made and not withdrawn and will make a final decision on whether a penalty is appropriate, and if so, how much it should be, as soon as practicable following the end of the 21 day consultation period.
  3. ORR Investigation report - Northern (March 2019)

Passenger Information During Disruption

  1. The Investigation focused on whether GTR and Northern breached Condition 4 of their ‘Statement of National Regulatory Provisions’ which requires train companies to provide “appropriate, accurate and timely information to enable railway passengers and prospective passengers to plan and make their journeys with a reasonable degree of assurance, including when there is disruption.”