Train operators warned over short notice timetable changes

The Office of Rail and Road said train times are being altered more often than usual because of the impact of Covid-19.

More should be done to ensure rail passengers realise timetables are changing at short notice, a regulator has warned (Aaron Chown/PA)
More should be done to ensure rail passengers realise timetables are changing at short notice, a regulator has warned (Aaron Chown/PA)

Train operators are making it harder for passengers to buy cheaper Advance tickets by failing to alert them to short notice timetable changes, a regulator has warned.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said companies must do more to keep travellers informed.

Timetables are being altered more often than usual because of the impact of Covid-19.

Online journey planners are continuing to show timetables for the following 12 weeks but “not all the times are correct” and some changes are “only being shown a few weeks in advance”, the ORR said.

It called on train operators and rail ticket retailers to “do more to make it clear that information provided now may still change before travel”.

This is vital to enable passengers to buy cheaper Advance tickets which are generally only available once timetables are confirmed, the ORR said.

Action is also required to help the industry meet its obligations under licence conditions and consumer law to provide “appropriate, accurate and timely information”, according to the independent body.

ORR deputy director Stephanie Tobyn said: “With changes to timetables and travel advice happening more often than usual, the current pandemic has amplified just how vital it is for passengers to have consistent information which helps them plan and make journeys with confidence.

“We know it is a challenging time for train operators but it remains as important as ever that operators are open with passengers about the difficulties faced.

“They need to update journey information frequently across all channels so that there is ‘one version of the truth’, and provide clear information about the availability of advance tickets.”

Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Transport Focus, said: “Passengers who still need to travel must be confident that the timetable is accurate and takes account of any engineering work.

“If the timetable is finalised late, people can end up paying more because cheaper Advance fares aren’t yet on sale.

“Late finalisation is mainly a problem at weekends when most engineering work takes place.

“We are pressing the rail industry to get back to finalising the timetable far enough ahead that people can plan with confidence.

“In the meantime, we’re saying ‘make it crystal clear which information is accurate and which is not’.”

Robert Nisbet, regional director at the Rail Delivery Group, said: “Rail companies worked together to deliver four timetable changes in six months which has helped keep the country connected at a time of national need while reducing delays to their lowest level in years.

“Changing timetables every six weeks, on average, meant it wasn’t possible to confirm train and ticket information within the usual 12-week period but we’re working hard to publish this further in advance and we encourage people to follow advice from operators and retailers.”

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