No Trains

Check your journey before you travel…

In a rare editorial piece, our News Editor EJ Ward speaks about some of the disruption faced by rail commuters in and around London.

My commute has become a nightmare, I should be writing this up in the Panda Radio office, but instead I am typing on my phone on a crowded train heading to Blackfriars. The train is crowded because the previous 7 trains were cancelled, and every station we call at more people get on. Eight trains worth of people are all trying to get on this one train.

This is because four rail operators have changed the time of every single one of their trains. Great Northern, Southern, Thameslink and the Gatwick Express (all part of Govia Thameslink Railway)  and feeling the impact of RailPlan2020, a grandly named scheme which aims to change the times of millions of rail journeys (although, one member of staff did joke that it was called “RailPlan2020” because that is the year the first service would run on time).

On Sunday the 20th of May new timetables were launched across the rail network in the South East. A huge advertising campaign was in place before hand, advising customers to prepare for the new timetable. But, it seems while customers were prepared the rail operators were not.

On the first weekday services were cancelled 12 hours in advance, trains didn’t stop at places they were scheduled to, and commuters were not happy. But, the rail operator’s social media teams told us all we could claim delay repay, so even though I was two hours late for work, I could claim back £2.70 from Thameslink.

RailPlan2020, what?

New timetables will affect almost a million rail journeys a day in the southern half of the UK

  • We are redeploying trains and crew across our entire network so there will be some disruption so please check your journey before you travel
  • Once we’ve completed the redeployment there will be additional space for 40,000 more passengers into London at peak times
  • We’ll also add an additional 400 new trains each day (13% uplift) and that means there will be a train service every 24 seconds
“Seven of my trains were cancelled in the last month, 11PM and they say there was over crowding”

Will, Head Chef, Streatham




The plan was introduced because:

“Passenger numbers have doubled since 2000, a growth that far outstrips any other area of the UK rail network. Our area is the busiest and most congested part of an ageing network. It’s time to create a modern railway that meets the needs of passengers today. A transformation that will change not only journeys but the lives of our generation and generations to come.”


“It’s going well, twice in the last two weeks I’ve got to work on time”

Man in a blue suit, on my train, shouting into the phone

Ten days later:

We apologise to passengers for the continued disruption linked to the introduction of the new timetable. We are working on a recovery plan with rail industry partners. Meanwhile, as late notice changes continue to be made, we ask passengers to check the service updates for your train on the day of travel. We expect disruption to ease over the coming months.”


That’s thelatest on Govia Thameslink’s RailPlan2020 website…

A source within Southern who has access to driver and route information told The Argus that  the disruption has been due to a lack of trained drivers.

“One day they told me three different excuses for the same train being delayed and then cancelled. The best one was that the driver didn’t know the route. I don’t care about that. In my job I have to turn up and do what I’m paid for, I provide solutions and not excuses”

Anton, South Merton – Farringdon, Lawyer.

They said: “They haven’t been fully trained and they only know part of the route. Then we haven’t got enough to have someone waiting at the station where there’s supposed to be a handover, so the outbound service gets cancelled.”

And now commuters are worried about, so called, “ghost trains” when trains just vanish from departure boards and train apps, with no notification. One seasons commuter who travels from Sutton to Blackfriars every day said the first time this happened to him there was no announcement, he just boarded the next train that arrived at the platform he was waiting on, only to find it was the wrong one.

“I lost a temp job because I couldn’t get there on time, it kind of puts you off using the trains at all”

Sarah, Tooting – City Thameslink worked in customer service.

Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State of Transport, recently wrote to MPs saying the “rail industry has collectively failed”… Yep.

They have failed the customers and their staff, often you find platform staff bearing the brunt of passenger’s frustration. As train after train is cancelled and your ETA at home grows further and further away often the only representative, of the company you pay thousands of pounds a year for a service, is the chap in a high vis. In the past 11 days I’ve seen them shouted at, sworn at and totally unable to help.

“My favourite excuse was that the driver wasn’t qualified to drive on the route. It’s on a sodding track. I work in the railways so I know what that means but nobody else does. To the average person that is laughable”

Name withheld, Network Rail Admin, delayed on my train

The rail industry is a service, one we pay for. Yes, we know sometimes trains will be delayed. We can take that, but what we can’t accept is the impact on people. The time spent waiting and staring at departure boards, the trains cancelled with no reasons, the ‘delay repay’ which covers the cost of a ticket but not anything else.

“I miss my family. I just want to get home to my wife and baby before they both fall asleep”

Chris, Sutton – Blackfriars and works in PR.

The people

I’m on a train now, writing this sitting on the floor, the last four trains I wanted have been cancelled. The impact of RailPlan2020 has been huge, being a chatty person I often chat to people on the train (sorry), this week I’ve chatted to a young mother who was asked to leave a temporary job because she was an hour late on her first two days, I’ve spoken to people who have missed seeing loved ones off at airports, people who have spent less time with their children, rail staff who’ve faced abuse from passengers, and people who have become so stressed and upset they find it hard to travel.

“They told me I could claim for the cost of my journey. What about the cost to my quality of life?”

Anon, angry at London Blackfriars

What do the rail operators have to say about this? “Check your journey before you travel”…


“The new Thameslink timetable, the finest piece of fiction written in 2018. I’m going to try and enter it for a Brooker Prize”

EJ Ward, Journalist, Purgatory…


EJ Ward

EJ manages all news content for Panda Radio in the UK, and prepares news for other stations in our radio group. Experienced in news reporting, and specialising in breaking news and political reporting, as well as on-the-ground reporting from major UK incidents. EJ is always on the hunt for hard news, specifically content relating to the UK, Europe and China. Find him on Twitter @EJWardNews