I have been in discussion with East Midlands Trains about resuming Bedford stopping services during the ongoing rail disruption. You will have seen the earlier response on my website from them explaining why they felt unable to do this. I robustly challenged their arguments, and I have now received the response below (formatted to show my questions in bold and their answers.)
It is clear that they are not going to be moved from their position and we must now wait for Thameslink's interim timetable to come into effect on 15th July. I met with representatives from Thameslink at the weekend who have assured me that they are confident in being able to deliver this timetable, which will make a huge difference to rail users.
" Dear Mr Burt
I am extremely sorry that Govia Thameslink Railway has not been able to provide a significant number of the new fast Bedford peak services since the start of the May timetable (provided in response to the withdrawal of stops in the East Midlands Trains service made necessary in turn by the introduction of the new Thameslink timetable); I absolutely recognise the hardship and distress that this has caused passengers from Bedford and am very sorry for it. I understand that the interim timetable that Govia Thameslink Railway intends to operate from next week reinstates all of those services, and I hope that the situation improves considerably from then.
We have looked hard to see whether we could provide temporary peak time stops at Bedford but, as my letter to the Secretary of State explained, none of the options we found were satisfactory and all risked making (on a network wide basis) a very difficult situation even worse. Given the difficulties we know Bedford passengers are facing because of the challenges to the introduction of the Govia Thameslink Railway timetable, if we could have found a temporary solution we would have done.
To answer your questions in turn:
1 – Extended journey times for passengers already on the train.
This does not outweigh the extended times for Bedford passengers. The changes they have had to make to their lives and the impact on their families and work is also not considered. A few extra minutes for those already on the train is not too much to ask to save hours for those not on it.
Journey times extensions: the main challenges we faced in re-introducing temporary Bedford stops were track capacity and rolling stock capacity. However, it is nevertheless true that as a responsible operator we must balance the journey time requirements of all of our customers across our route, many of whom have already experienced extended journey times as a result of the new Govia Thameslink Railway timetable.
2. Likelihood of late departures for later services.
Again, why should this outweigh the inconvenience caused to Bedford passengers?
Late departures: the same point arises.
3. High number of passengers overcrowding the trains…few if any seats available.
Bedford passengers are currently being crowded onto limited Thameslink services (if they can get on them). If you shared the burden then there would be much less overcrowding; I think most people would consider getting a seat these days a luxury.
Overcrowding of trains: we have conducted surveys of all of our services leaving St Pancras in the evening and I am afraid that all of our modelling shows that, given the relatively modest capacity that we provide compared to Govia Thameslink Railway (reduced by the effects of the Govia Thameslink Railway timetable compared to before May), we simply do not have the capacity in the evening peak to provide a sustainable service. It would simply not be right, satisfactory nor sustainable to offer a service that would inevitably leave huge numbers of customers on the platform. As you know, we also looked at providing additional services in the evening, but could not find platform capacity at St Pancras to make them work.
Down direction services: I am afraid that the capacity point above continues to apply. In relation to the detailed train planning points made by your constituents, if we could have found a workable solution we would have done.
As a railway leader, I am deeply disappointed by the challenges that the introduction of the new Govia Thameslink Railway timetable has brought to passengers from Bedford and elsewhere. When it became clear that Govia Thameslink Railway was not able to operate its full timetable, we worked hard to find a temporary fix (involving a team of planners working for a fortnight) but frustratingly we were not able to find a satisfactory one.
I hope that the new interim timetable that Govia Thameslink Railway expects to introduce from next week significantly improves the experience of Bedford passengers.
I know this is not the result that you (or I) wanted and am sorry for it.