A train operator has been asked to consider reducing the number of weekend rail services it offers until it has the drivers to run them.

On July 1, county councillors pointed to a catalogue of delayed and cancelled Govia Thameslink Railway train services across Hertfordshire – particularly over the weekends.

And they questioned the rail company’s rostering policy, that means drivers on a number of Hertfordshire routes are not contractually obliged to work on Sundays – leading to trains being cancelled if too few drivers volunteer.

Govia Thameslink Railway stakeholder manager Patrick Ladbury told the meeting of the county council’s growth, infrastructure, planning and the economy cabinet panel that general performance had improved since last year.

But he accepted there were still problems, particularly at the weekends.

He said it was a particular issue that on certain weekends there weren’t enough drivers who were willing to work their rest days.

Highlighting the “chronic” rostering issue, Cllr Derrick Ashley - executive member for growth, infrastructure, planning and the economy - said: “Why not run half the number of trains – you can rely on, rather than twice the number you can’t rely on?

“... what people want is reliability. I would be happier to have half the number of trains at the weekend that you knew were going to turn up.”

Labour councillor Sharon Taylor – who is also leader of Stevenage Borough Council – said she did not understand a driver contract that relies on drivers working on their rest days at weekends.

'There should be proper rosters'

“What sort of way is that to run a professional service,” she said. “There should be proper rosters.

“How do you run a service expecting people to work on their rest days?”

Cllr Taylor highlighted the unpredictability of rail services running to and from Stevenage.

“If I went to National Rail Enquiries it will tell me a list of the times trains go from Stevenage,” she said.

“But I can tell you it would bear no relation to the trains actually running.”

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat Cllr Sandy Walkington, who represents St Albans South division, reeled off a catalogue of delayed or cancelled trains he had experienced in recent months

He said he had used the train on eight occasions over the past couple of months – and had been delayed six times.

He said the rosy picture painted by Govia Thameslink did not match with his personal experience.

Nevertheless, there was some lukewarm praise for the improvements that the company had made.

“It’s clearly not as bad as last year – but that is not a very high bar,” said Liberal Democrat Cllr Steve Jarvis.

Sundays covered by voluntary working

Govia Thameslink Railway run services on a number of routes in Hertfordshire. They are Thameslink services through St Albans to St Pancras, Thameslink and Great Northern services through Stevenage to St Pancras and Kings Cross; Great Northern services from WGC and Hertford North to Moorgate and Southern services through Watford Junction to East Croydon.

On Southern services Sundays are covered by contractual overtime, as drivers are contracted to work a minimum number of Sundays in a year.

However, on Thameslink and Great Northern services, Sundays are covered by voluntary rest day working.

What Govia Thameslink Railway said

Responding to Cllr Ashley’s suggestion that services should be reduced to ensure reliability, Mr Ladbury said: “What passengers want are published reliable services. I think that is something that is being looked at.”

Following the meeting, a spokesperson for Govia Thameslink, highlighted the steps that were being taken to improve Great Northern services.

She said: “We are very sorry that our service on Great Northern has been below the level our passengers rightly expect. Providing a reliable service is our number one priority.

“We are taking practical steps to improve service – 50 new drivers will have completed their training by this autumn adding to the 1,000 drivers we already have.

“Nine new, larger trains are already running on Great Northern, with the full fleet of 25 expected in service by the autumn.

“Passengers are reminded that they can claim delay repay compensation at www.greatnorthernrail.com if their journey is delayed for 15 minutes or more.”