East Coast Main Line timetable changes delayed by year 'to prevent repeat of 2018 chaos'

Timetable changes as part of a £1.2bn upgrade to the East Coast Main Line have been put on hold for at least a year in a bid to prevent a repeat of the chaos that hit the North’s railways in May 2018, the Department for Transport has confirmed.

Timetables changes on the East Coast Main Line are being delayed for at least a year. Picture: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images

The flagship project, which has already involved several years of engineering work, was set to add dozens more services introduced along the line from May next year but has now been put on hold following industry concerns.

The Department for Transport has now confirmed the May 2022 timetable change along the route will not go ahead. The changes are now not expected to happen until 2023 at the earliest.

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A spokesperson for the DfT said: “We have agreed that the planned introduction of the May 2022 East Coast Main Line timetable change will not go ahead. It is vital that the views of passengers and local leaders are heard and reflected in the timetable.

“This decision ensures the lessons of May 2018 are learned, enabling the industry to conduct a full review of its readiness and resolve outstanding issues identified by the industry assurance group.

"The industry will also focus on delivering an improved, achievable new timetable, which fully considers the consultation responses by passengers and local stakeholders and delivers reliable services on the East Coast."

According to an email seen by Modern Railways magazine, Network Rail recommended the new timetable was deferred to May 2023 “or beyond”, citing five key risks of going ahead with the change.

These included issues with enhancing the electrical power supply on the route, issues with cracks discovered on Hitachi trains used by LNER on the route which saw services temporarily withdrawn earlier this year for safety checks.

Other concerns included the operational feasibility of the timetable, the time needed to rewrite and worry about negative public reaction.

The East Coast upgrade work is designed to allow for an extra two long-distance services per hour in and out of London and to improve reliability along the key route, which normally carried more than 20 million passengers per year and connects London and Edinburgh via Doncaster and York.

Part of the work has already seen improvements to the power supply between London and Doncaster to allow faster and more environmentally-friendly trains to run. That work took place between 2014 and 2020 and in September last year, work on phase two of the project between Doncaster and Edinburgh began.

The decision to postpone timetable changes for at least 12 months is designed to avoid what happened in May 2018, when a revised timetable led to widespread train cancellations and delays across Northern England.

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