Office of Rail and Road identified a number of failures after the changes last May

A Thameslink train crosses a viaduct






Govia Thameslink Railway held on to Britain’s biggest rail franchise but in December it was ordered by the Department of Transport to spend £15m on passenger improvements.
Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) is facing a £5m fine for the chaos caused by the introduction of a new timetable last May, which led to train cancellations and delays for hundreds of thousands of commuters.

An investigation by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) into the “severe disruption” identified a number of failures on the part of Govia, which operates the Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern and Gatwick Express franchises.

The watchdog said that Govia failed to communicate changes to services, cancelling trains with short notice and leaving commuters unable to properly plan their journeys.

Stephanie Tobyn, the deputy director for consumers at the 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.”

In the eight weeks after the timetable change on 20 May, trains were permanently removed from the timetable but passengers were not clearly informed that this was the case until several weeks later.

Some trains were reintroduced at short notice, leaving insufficient time to input journey information into systems. The ORR said these “ghost trains” arrived at stations with staff and passengers unaware of their arrival or where they were expected to stop.

In other cases, replacement buses were used on some routes but many passengers did not know about them and inadequate internal communication often left frontline staff with little or no information to assist passengers.

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GTR held on to Britain’s biggest rail franchise but in December was ordered by the Department of Transport to spend £15m on passenger improvements. The botched timetabling rollout led to cancellations and disruptions of thousands of train services over the summer.

Tobyn said: “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.”

Govia has 21 days to respond to the penalty notice from the ORR. The Guardian has contacted Govia for comment.

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