Temporary changes made to final confirmation of rail timetables

Network Rail is making temporary changes to the advanced availability of final timetables for approximately six months from 20 May onwards, meaning these will be published later than normal.

This means that in a small number of instances, passengers will not be able to book tickets until less than the usual 12 weeks before travel. While the vast majority of passengers will be unaffected as 98% use season tickets, walk-on fares or book less than six weeks before travel, some passengers will be affected and the industry is working together to ensure that nobody loses out.

In the small number of instances where it is only possible to book tickets less than 12 weeks in advance, train operators will still offer the same range of discounted tickets. If trains are cancelled, the normal compensation mechanisms will apply - if people have booked on a train that is cancelled, delayed, or where their reservation will not be honoured, and they decide not to travel, they will be given a full refund. If people buy a ticket for a service affected by this change and then, at a later date advance tickets are made available which are at a cheaper fare, customers should book the advance fare for that service and then request a fee-free refund on their original ticket.

So, passengers are advised to try and book as normal. Most tickets will be on sale as normal – including those which can already be booked at 12 weeks in advance or more - but some may not and passengers can either sign up with their train company where possible or at National Rail Enquiries to receive emails about the latest availability of tickets.

The core timetable changes twice a year, in May and December. As a result of billions of pounds of investment in the rail network, and in new trains and services, the May 2018 timetable change is the largest in living memory, needing the rescheduling of almost four million services – some 600% more than normal.

The scale of this change was being managed by the rail industry, which was also taking into account unexpected alterations to infrastructure projects, to the introduction of new trains and to new services by some operators. Among other issues, there was then a significant delay to the major electrification work between Manchester and Preston. This meant that the Network Rail timetable planning teams have been unable to deliver the new timetable within the usual timescales.

The decision to make the temporary change to the availability of final timetables follows discussions with train operators. It has been taken to give the greatest possible certainty to passengers across the country about the services they can expect to run.

While most timetables and tickets will still be available at the usual 12 weeks before travel, these will not be absolutely confirmed until closer to the date – usually six weeks beforehand - so may be subject to more short notice changes than normal. Also, times and tickets for some services, particularly at weekends, may not be made available until less than 12 weeks before travel.

Jo Kaye, managing director, System Operator, Network Rail, said: “This decision hasn’t been taken lightly, but there is significant change required in the timetable resulting from unprecedented investment, combined with short‐term changes to projects and plans, means that our timetable planning resource is at more than full capacity.

“We recognise this will be inconvenient for some passengers and can only apologise that we’ve had to take this step.”

Jacqueline Starr, managing director of customer experience at the Rail Delivery Group, said: “While for the vast majority of our customers this change will have little or no effect, the reduced time to plan and book certain journeys may inconvenience some people and for that we apologise.

“Train operators are working together doing all they can to minimise the impact of this change on customers. That’s why, if people have booked on a train that is cancelled, delayed, or where their reservation will not be honoured, and they decide not to travel, they will be given a full refund. Should tickets go on sale at shorter notice than usual, people will still be able to get the same range of discounted fares as normal.”

Notes to editors

  • Network Rail is responsible for publishing the national railway timetable, liaising with the trains companies
  • While 2% of passengers book more than six weeks in advance, the proportion of people affected will be even smaller because in the vast majority of cases, tickets will still be able to be booked 12 weeks in advance
  • This temporary change will take affect from Sunday 25 February and be in place for a number of months. The industry will focus on returning to its twelve week planning horizons as soon as possible, focusing especially on the critical Christmas holiday period.
  • In a very limited number of cases, advanced tickets or train times, on some weekends may not be available until four weeks before travel or fewer
  • ‘Informed traveller’ is the name given to the rail industry process that enables timetables, particularly weekend timetables that can change owing to project or engineering work, to be finalised twelve weeks ahead of travel (also sometimes referred to as T-12). This then enables train operators to open their retail systems for the booking and purchase of advanced tickets
  • The industry has already started an internal review into this matter and will be reporting back in the spring
  • The Rail Delivery Group brings together train operators, Network Rail and the supply chain to enable a better railway.
  • Customers can find more information at www.nationalrail.co.uk/timetablechange

Contact Information

Rail Delivery Group Media Team