New rail links shelved after the 2018 timetable shambles

Rail passengers in some parts of Britain will see improved services when the new train times take effect in May. But after the botched introduction of radical new schedules in 2018, some promised enhancements have been shelved. 

The biggest improvements are in the Greater Anglia region, where two trains each day, each way between London Liverpool Street and Norwich, have been accelerated to 90 minutes. The service will cover the ground between Ipswich and the capital in 55 minutes.

But planned links from Liverpool to Glasgow and expanded services from towns and cities on the east coast main line will not be implemented.

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The national timetable is traditionally changed twice each year, in May and December. The May 2018 change was billed as the most ambitious and wide-ranging in railway history. But within a few hours of contact with the new schedules, the Thameslink service through central London, and many Northern Rail trains in northwest England, ground almost to a halt.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents Network Rail and train operators, says: “Having learned the lessons from last year’s disruptive summer timetable change, a cross-industry task force has carefully examined the railway’s preparedness across the country.

“New services are only being introduced where there is high confidence that the necessary infrastructure, staffing plans and new trains will be ready.

“Some services which were previously expected this summer will be introduced later, ensuring a reliable service that passengers can have confidence in.  

A spokesperson for TransPennine Express said: “We are fully committed to bringing in a new direct service between Liverpool and Glasgow as soon as we can in during autumn 2019.

“It is a disappointing delay, but it is the right decision to make and once the service launches, it will certainly be worth the wait.”

LNER had promised extra trains between London and Lincoln, Harrogate and Bradford, which would deliver a service every two hours. That has been postponed, along with plans for direct links between London and Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Thornaby and Middlesbrough.

An LNER spokesperson said: “Our ambition to deliver six trains a day between London and Lincoln, Harrogate and Bradford has not changed. We continue to work closely with Network Rail and will look to further confirm these plans in the coming months.”

Overall, the RDG claims that 1,000 extra services per week are to be added, “to make trains more frequent and enable new journeys, while prioritising punctuality and reliability”. 

But the organisation warns: “There is usually a small impact on punctuality following timetable changes as rail staff and passengers get used to new train times.”

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the rail industry, said: “Improving the railway for tomorrow cannot come at the expense of running a reliable railway today.

“Many parts of the country are set to benefit this summer from a better service, but where introducing improvements puts reliability at risk, we are rightly taking a more cautious approach.”

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