The operator of the railway service which links Huntingdon and St Neots with London has been ordered to pay millions of pounds by the Government over timetable disruption.
Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) will contribute £15million towards “tangible improvements for passengers” on top of a similar amount the firm has already spent on compensation for passengers since the May timetable disruption.
Commuters at both Huntingdon and St Neots stations saw their travel plans thrown into disarray when a new timetable was introduced in the summer, with lengthy delays and cancellations causing chaos.
GTR apologised for the problems caused and says punctuality and reliability of its services had improved.
As further punishment, the Government announced that GTR would make no profit from its franchise in this financial year, and that its profit level would be capped for the remainder of its franchise period, which runs until September 2021.
The firm will not be stripped of its franchise, however.
In a statement, Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Transport, said: “The government is holding GTR to account for their role in the unacceptable performance following the introduction of the May timetable. GTR will make no profit from its franchise in this financial year and looking ahead, we have also capped the amount of profit that the operator is able to make for the remainder of its franchise, which is due to expire in September 2021.
“Furthermore, GTR will be contributing £15 million towards tangible improvements for passengers. This is in addition to the £15 million the operator has already contributed towards compensation for passengers since the May timetable disruption. GTR has agreed to work with the rail user groups representing passengers of Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern, who will determine what improvements this package will fund.
“Performance after the May timetable change was unacceptable. This action announced holds GTR to account appropriately and will benefit passengers. The department will continue to monitor closely the performance of GTR, particularly during the upcoming December timetable change. These measures do not make GTR immune from further sanctions in the event of any subsequent failure to perform.”
However, Mr Grayling and the Department for Transport have not escaped criticism over the timetable problems, with the transport select committee issuing a withering assessment of their respective roles.
The committee, in a report published this week, said: “The governance and decision-making structures overseen by the secretary of state and the Department of Transport were inadequate: lines of accountability failed; were not sufficiently clear; or simply did not exist.”
The committee conceded that Mr Grayling was not fully informed of serious problems but said that did not absolve him of responsibility because he was “not proactive enough”.
The chief executive of GTR, Patrick Verwer said the firm has already processed compensation claims for 68,000 season ticket-holders, and added the deadline for claims had been extended to the end of January, next year.
He said: “Since July, services on Thameslink and Great Northern have become more stable and reliable.”