Govia Thameslink Railway
A Thameslink Class 700 at Shepreth Branch Junction, south of Cambridge in 2019
Overview
Franchise(s)
Main region(s)
  • South East England
  • Greater London
  • East of England
Stations operated238
Parent company
Reporting markGN, GX, SN, TL
Other
Websitegtrailway.com

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) is a British train operating company that operates the TSGN rail franchise. Within the franchise, GTR runs trains under the sub-brands: Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern, and Gatwick Express. GTR is a subsidiary of Govia, which is itself a joint venture between the British Go-Ahead Group (65%) and French company Keolis (35%).

The franchise was awarded, after repeated delays, to Govia Thameslink Railway on 23 May 2014. On 14 September 2014, GTR took over operations for the prior franchisee First Capital Connect; during July 2015, both Southern and Gatwick Express operations were integrated into GTR. This change made it the largest rail franchise in terms of passengers, staff and fleet in the UK. The franchise has an unusual structure involving a management contract that sees all fare revenues going straight to the Department for Transport (DfT), which in turn pays GTR fixed amounts that add up to £8.9 billion across its first seven years of operation.

GTR introduced several fleets of new trains, including the Class 387, Class 700, and Class 717. In terms of infrastructure, Govia planned to invest £50 million into the 239 stations it manages to improve accessibility, replace information systems, and increase staffing hours, alongside general redevelopment work. Various measures at increasing capacity and improving service were also planned, such as the doubling of overnight Thameslink services, half-hourly King's Lynn to London services, and extending the Oyster card network.

As early as June 2016, GTR was facing public criticism from officials over its performance, including calls from the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan for it to be stripped of the franchise. In May 2018, the company introduced a new timetable which included the first regular services through the Canal Tunnels and to other new destinations previously not served by Thameslink; however, an interim timetable that ran fewer trains had to be adopted due to frequent service issues. In response to the significant decline of passenger travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic, GTR considerably curtailed its services by mid-2020. GTR is one of several train operators that are experiencing severe disruption of services due to the 2022–2024 United Kingdom railway strikes.

History

Background

During 2006, the Thameslink and Great Northern services were merged into a single franchise due to the upcoming Thameslink Programme. In 2012, the British government announced that services of First Capital Connect, Southern (with Gatwick Express) and some Southeastern routes would be merged into a single Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise (TSGN).[2] The Invitation to Tender was to have been issued in October 2012, with the successful bidder announced during Spring 2013 and TSGN originally due to start in September 2013. However, following the collapse of the InterCity West Coast re-franchising process, it was decided to enact a temporary freeze on all franchising competitions until January 2013.[3]

In January 2013, the government announced that it would extend the existing contract through to March 2014, and that it intended to negotiate with FirstGroup to operate the franchise under a management contract for up to two years.[4] In March 2013, the Secretary of State for Transport announced that the franchise would be extended again to run up to 13 September 2014, and that the future franchise would be a management-style contract due to the level of investment and change on the route.[5] During September 2013, a revised invitation to tender was issued.[6] On 23 May 2014, it was announced that Govia Thameslink Railway had been awarded the franchise.[7][8][9]

On 14 September 2014, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) took over services from First Capital Connect; at the commencement of operations, it served 122 stations and operated a fleet of 226 trains.[10] The separate Thameslink and Great Northern brands were maintained upon the GTR takeover. During December 2014, full control was taken of the Sevenoaks Thameslink service, previously operated jointly with Southeastern. During July 2015, both Southern and Gatwick Express became a part of GTR, making it the largest rail franchise in terms of passengers, staff and fleet in the UK.[11][12]

The franchise has an unusual structure: it is a management contract where fare income does not go to GTR. Under their original contract, the Department for Transport pays GTR £8.9 billion over the first seven-year period and receives all revenue.[13] Consequently, the company carries less revenue risk. This form of franchise was chosen because of long-term engineering works anticipated around London, which would be a significant challenge to organise within the normal form of franchise.[14][15]

Changes and disruptions

During December 2015, GTR announced that the majority of its ticket prices would be frozen, and that the average fare rise for the coming year would be only 0.8%.[16]

In June 2016, amongst criticism of the performance of its services, Go-Ahead warned of lower than anticipated profits on the franchises, leading to 18% drop in the Go-Ahead share price. Passengers had previously rated its Thameslink service as the worst in the country. Only 20% of Southern trains arrived on time in the year from April 2015 to March 2016, and there was an ongoing industrial dispute over driver-only operated trains.[17][18][19] On 12 July 2016, after 15% of Southern services were cancelled for a period of weeks to improve service reliability, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan called for GTR to be stripped of the franchise.[20] On 15 July 2016, citing the issues, Rail Minister Claire Perry resigned from her position.[21]

In response to the significant decline of passenger travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic, GTR considerably curtailed its services by mid-2020.[22][23] Between 30 March 2020 and 3 April 2022, Gatwick Express services were suspended.[24][25]

In March 2022, following changes made due to COVID-19, the DfT gave GTR a direct-award contract expiring on 1 April 2025, with the option for the government to extend this until 1 April 2028 at the latest.[1]

GTR is one of several train operators impacted by the 2022–2024 United Kingdom railway strikes, which are the first national rail strikes in the UK for three decades.[26] Its workers are amongst those who have voted in favour of taking industrial action due to a dispute over pay and working conditions.[27] GTR is only capable of operating a very minimal timetable on any of the planned dates for the strikes due to the number of staff involved.[28][29]

Thameslink and Great Northern services

Main articles: Thameslink and Great Northern route

Govia Thameslink Railway has operated Thameslink and Great Northern services since 14 September 2014. Thameslink is a 68-station main-line route running 225 km (140 miles) north to south through London from Bedford to Brighton, serving both London Gatwick Airport and London Luton Airport, with a suburban loop serving Sutton, Mitcham and Wimbledon and on weekdays a suburban line via Catford and Bromley South to Sevenoaks. Great Northern is the name of the suburban rail services run on the southern end of Britain's East Coast Main Line and associated branches. Services operate to or from London King's Cross and Moorgate. Destinations include Hertford North, Welwyn Garden City, Stevenage, Peterborough, Cambridge and King's Lynn.

In May 2018, the company introduced a new timetable which included the first regular services through the Canal Tunnels and to other new destinations previously not served by Thameslink. However, due to frequent disruption of services on the whole network, Govia decided to create a new interim timetable with a reduced number of trains; this came into operation in July 2018.[30]

Thameslink service pattern

Off-peak

The Monday–Friday off-peak service pattern, with frequencies in trains per hour (tph), includes:

Thameslink Monday–Friday off-peak service pattern
Route tph Calling at
Bedford to Brighton[31][32] 2
Bedford to Three Bridges via Redhill[31][33] 2
  • In the evening, this service only runs between Luton and Three Bridges
Peterborough to Horsham via Redhill[34][35] 2
Cambridge to Brighton[34][32] 2
London Blackfriars to Sevenoaks via Catford and Otford[36] 2
Luton to Rainham via Greenwich[36][37] 2
  • In the evening, this service only runs between Kentish Town and Rainham
St Albans City to Sutton via Wimbledon (loop)[31][38] 2
  • Services then continue to/from St Albans City via Mitcham Junction (see below)
St Albans City to Sutton via Mitcham Junction (loop)[31][38] 2
  • Radlett
  • Elstree & Borehamwood
  • Mill Hill Broadway
  • Hendon
  • Brent Cross West
  • Cricklewood
  • West Hampstead Thameslink
  • Kentish Town
  • London St Pancras International
  • Farringdon
  • City Thameslink
  • London Blackfriars
  • Elephant & Castle
  • Loughborough Junction
  • Herne Hill
  • Tulse Hill
  • Streatham
  • Mitcham Eastfields
  • Mitcham Junction
  • Hackbridge
  • Carshalton
  • Services then continue to/from St Albans City via Wimbledon (see above)


Peak hours

During peak hours, the two trains per hour London Blackfriars to Sevenoaks service (from the table above) is extended through the 'core tunnel' to/from Welwyn Garden City (though a few services originate at Finsbury Park), with extra calls at City Thameslink, Farringdon, St Pancras International, Finsbury Park, New Southgate, Oakleigh Park, New Barnet, Potters Bar and Hatfield.[36][39]

As well as these services, during peak hours, several trains in each direction (approximately two trains per hour) run to/from Orpington (originating/terminating at either London Blackfriars, Luton, West Hampstead Thameslink or Kentish Town), all calling at Petts Wood in lieu of stations from St Mary Cray to Bat & Ball.[36]

In addition, there are six trains per day in each direction that operate to/from East Grinstead (originating/terminating at either Bedford, West Hampstead Thameslink, St Pancras International or London Bridge), which, after calling at South Croydon, call at Sanderstead, Riddlesdown, Upper Warlingham, Woldingham, Oxted, Hurst Green, Lingfield and Dormans.[40]

Great Northern service pattern

Since the introduction of regular services through the Canal Tunnels during May 2018, many GTR services on the East Coast Main Line were rebranded from Great Northern to Thameslink. Most of these services have been extended through central London and incorporated into the Thameslink network (as per above), although as of October 2019 some services are yet to be extended. The only services to retain the Great Northern brand are those on the Northern City Line, the stopping services to/from Cambridge and Letchworth Garden City and the express services to/from Cambridge, Ely and King's Lynn, as well as Peterborough at peak times.[41]

The Great Northern off-peak service pattern, as of May 2023, with frequencies in trains per hour (tph), consists of the following:[42][43]

Route tph Calling at
London King's Cross to Ely 1
London King's Cross to King's Lynn 1
London King's Cross to Letchworth Garden City 1 Finsbury Park, Alexandra Palace, Potters Bar, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, Welwyn North, Knebworth, Stevenage, Hitchin
London King's Cross to Cambridge 1 Finsbury Park, Alexandra Palace, Potters Bar, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, Welwyn North, Knebworth, Stevenage, Hitchin, Letchworth Garden City, Baldock, Royston, Meldreth, Shepreth, Foxton
Moorgate to Welwyn Garden City 2
Moorgate to Stevenage via Hertford North 2


Southern and Gatwick Express services

Southern Class 377 at Watford Junction

Main articles: Southern (Govia Thameslink Railway) and Gatwick Express

The Southern and Gatwick Express brands joined Govia Thameslink Railway on 26 July 2015. Southern routes run from London Victoria and London Bridge through the South London suburbs of Battersea, Norbury, Peckham, Sydenham, Crystal Palace, Norwood, Croydon, Streatham, Purley and Sutton to towns surrounding London including Caterham, Epsom and Tadworth. Further afield, Southern also serve Redhill, Tonbridge, Uckfield, East Grinstead, Gatwick Airport, Brighton, Ashford (Kent), Worthing, Hastings, Portsmouth, Eastbourne, Horsham, Southampton, Littlehampton and Bognor Regis. Additionally, Southern run West London route services from Milton Keynes to South Croydon via Watford and Clapham Junction. Since 2008, Southern has operated the Gatwick Express service from London Victoria to Gatwick Airport and Brighton.[44][45]

Gatwick Express

Gatwick Express operates an express commuter and airport transfer service between London Victoria, Gatwick Airport, Haywards Heath and Brighton. Between 6:00 am and 9:00 am on weekdays, northbound services call additionally at Preston Park, Hassocks and Burgess Hill. Services stop additionally at the same stations in the southbound direction between 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm.[46]

As of May 2023, the off-peak Monday-Saturday, with frequencies in 'trains per hour' (tph), consists of:[46]

Route tph Calling at
London VictoriaBrighton 2 Gatwick Airport, Haywards Heath[47]

On Sundays, Gatwick Express operates a half-hourly shuttle service between London Victoria and Gatwick Airport only.[46]


Southern

The standard off-peak service as of June 2024 is:[48]

Brighton Main Line
Route tph Calling at
London VictoriaLittlehampton 2
London Victoria – Eastbourne 1
London Victoria – Ore 1
Arun Valley line
Route tph Calling at
London Victoria – Portsmouth Harbour via Crawley 2
  • This route splits/merges at Horsham with the route to Bognor Regis (see below). Fishbourne, Bosham, Nutbourne and Warblington are served by the same train
London Victoria – Bognor Regis via Crawley 2
Seaford branch line
Route tph Calling at
BrightonSeaford 2
  • Services alternate between serving Southease and Newhaven Harbour
East Coastway and Marshlink lines
Route tph Calling at
Brighton – Eastbourne 1
Brighton – Ore 1
Eastbourne – Ashford International 1
West Coastway line
Route tph Calling at
Brighton – Southampton Central 2
Brighton – Portsmouth & Southsea 1
Brighton to Chichester via Littlehampton 1
  • Hove, Aldrington, Portslade, Fishersgate, Southwick, Shoreham-by-Sea, Lancing, East Worthing, Worthing, West Worthing, Durrington-on-Sea, Goring-by-Sea, Angmering, Littlehampton[a], Ford, Barnham,
Barnham – Bognor Regis 2 Shuttle service
Oxted line
Route tph Calling at
London VictoriaEast Grinstead 1
London BridgeUckfield 1
Reigate and Redhill–Tonbridge line
Route tph Calling at
London VictoriaReigate 2
Redhill – Tonbridge 1
West London Route
Route tph Calling at
Watford JunctionEast Croydon 1
Mole Valley Line
Route tph Calling at
London VictoriaDorking via Carshalton 1
London Victoria – Horsham via Carshalton 1
London Victoria – Epsom Downs via Norbury 2
London Bridge – Epsom 2
  • Norwood Junction, West Croydon, Waddon, Wallington, Carshalton Beeches, Sutton, Cheam, Ewell East
Caterham and Tattenham Corner lines
Route tph Calling at
London Bridge – Caterham 2
  • This route splits/merges at Purley with the route to Tattenham Corner, see below.
London Bridge – Tattenham Corner 2
  • This route splits/merges at Purley with the route to Caterham, see above.
London via Crystal Palace and/or Tulse Hill
Route tph Calling at
London VictoriaWest Croydon via Crystal Palace 2
London Victoria – London Bridge via Crystal Palace 2
London Bridge – East Croydon via Tulse Hill 2
London Bridge – Beckenham Junction via Tulse Hill and Crystal Palace 2
  • South Bermondsey, Queens Road Peckham, Peckham Rye, East Dulwich, North Dulwich, Tulse Hill, West Norwood, Gipsy Hill, Crystal Palace, Birkbeck
Southern exterior signage at Norwood Junction station (now replaced by London Overground signage)

Franchise commitments

An example of widescale upgrade works at Harpenden station including the extension of platforms for 12 carriage trains, a new footbridge with lifts, new waiting rooms, brighter lighting, new ticket gates and automatic passenger information screens

This franchise is different from many other franchises let since the start of railway privatisation in 1996. Under the agreed terms of the franchise, the operator, in this case Govia, gives all revenue to the government, rather than paying set premiums. The Department for Transport will pay Govia, totalling around £8.9 billion over the franchise period of seven years, from the expected revenues of £12.4 billion. From these payments, Govia expects to generate a 3% profit, and the risks on operating costs will be Govia's, while the DfT will profit or lose from fluctuations in revenue.[49]

Prior to the start of the franchise, Govia stated its plans to invest £50 million in all 239 stations that it would manage. The specifics of these plans include:[50]

Govia also stated its intention to bring about the following:[51]

Rolling stock

In order to replace the Class 319 trains and to operate the expanded Thameslink network, a fleet of 115 eight- and twelve-car Class 700 trains had been procured during the franchise term of First Capital Connect. These entered service between 2016 and 2019.

As a consequence of the delayed procurement of the Class 700 trains, 29 Class 387 trains had also been ordered for the Thameslink route to release the Class 319 trains to newly electrified routes. Deliveries were completed during 2014 and the trains entered service later that year.[6][56] It was originally planned that once the Class 700s began entering service, the Class 387s would be transferred to Great Western Railway for use on routes in the Thames Valley.[57] However, a change of plans saw GWR order an entirely new fleet of Class 387s, so the Thameslink units were instead cascaded to the Great Northern route following delivery of the Class 700s.[58][59]

In addition to these, GTR ordered 25 new six-car trains to replace 40-year-old Class 313 units,[49] which were being run on the Great Northern suburban services out of Moorgate. During December 2015, Siemens was selected to provide these as a follow-on to the Class 700 order.[60][61] They were designated as the Class 717 in June 2016, and were first introduced in September 2018.[62][63]

In May 2023 the Southern Class 313 units were withdrawn from service.[64]

Current fleet

Family Class Image Type Top speed Number Carriages Routes operated Built
mph km/h
Southern
Bombardier Turbostar 171
DMU 100 160 12[46][65] 3 Brighton Main Line (London Bridge to South Croydon)
Oxted line (to Uckfield only)
East Coastway line
Marshlink line
2003–04
4[65] 2

Bombardier Electrostar 377/1

EMU 64 4 Entire Southern network apart from sections between Hurst Green and Uckfield & between Ore and Ashford International 2001–05
377/2 15
377/3 28 3
377/4 75 4
377/6 26 5
377/7 8


387/2 110 177 Varies 4[66] Units borrowed from Gatwick Express on a rotational basis according to demand.

Brighton Main Line
East Coastway line
West Coastway line (Brighton to Southampton Central)

2016–17
Gatwick Express
Bombardier Electrostar

387

EMU 110 177 18 4 Gatwick Express services between London Victoria & Brighton 2015–2016
Great Northern
Bombardier Electrostar 387 EMU 110 177 39[66] 4 Great Northern express services between London King's Cross & Ely / King's Lynn / Peterborough and Great Northern semi-fast services between London King's Cross & Letchworth Garden City / Cambridge 2014–2017
Siemens Desiro

717 Desiro City[63]

85 137 25 6 Northern City Line services between Moorgate & Welwyn Garden City / Stevenage via Hertford North 2018
Thameslink
Siemens Desiro 700 Desiro City
EMU 100 161 60 8 All Thameslink services 2015–2018
55 12

Future fleet

Govia Thameslink Railway issued a tender in April 2023 for between 21 and 30 four-coach 100 mph (160 km/h) trains, with an estimated value of £48.6 million.[67]

On 12 March 2024 it was announced that Great Northern would lease the full 30-unit fleet of Class 379 units.[68]

Family Class Image Type Top speed Number Carriages Route(s) to be operated Built In service
mph km/h
Bombardier Electrostar 379 EMU 100 160 30 4 TBC 2010–2011 Late 2024

Past fleet

Former units operated by Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern include:

Class Image Type Top speed Carriages Number Built Routes Withdrawn
mph km/h
365 Networker Express EMU 100 161 4 40 1994-95 Express services between London King's Cross and / Ely / King's Lynn / Peterborough 2018–2021
313

75 121 3 64 1976–1977 Northern City Line
West Coastway line
East Coastway line
Seaford branch line
2019 (Great Northern)
2023 (Southern)[64]


319 100 161 4 86
  • 1987–1988
  • 1990
All Thameslink services 2015–2017
321 100 161 4 13 1989–1990 Express services between London King's Cross to Peterborough and Cambridge 2016
377 Electrostar 26 2008–2009 Some Thameslink services 2017
455 75 120 4 46[69] 1982–1984 Metro and commuter services from London Victoria & London Bridge 2022
171 DMU 100 161 4 3[70] 2003-2004 Oxted line
Marshlink line
2022

Performance

Govia and Thameslink passenger numbers 2010–11 to 2018–19 Q4, annual rolling average[71][72]

In February 2015, Thameslink and Great Northern came at the bottom of Which? magazine's Best and worst UK train companies customer survey, scoring a customer satisfaction score of 43%. Thameslink and Great Northern were also scored 2/5 stars in each of the specific categories covered by the survey (including Reliability, Punctuality and Cleanliness of toilets) – which is the worst performance of any UK train operator. In the Which? 2017 survey, Thameslink and Great Northern improved their performance slightly with a rating of 46% also, their position in the table was second to bottom[73](Southern were in bottom place, but had been subject huge disruption due to industrial action).

Passenger numbers on Govia Thameslink Railway (which also includes Southern and Gatwick Express) have risen from 262 million annually in 2010–11 to 327 million annually in 2015–16.[72]

Notes

  1. ^ a b c Trains reverse here

References

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  37. ^ "F: The Medway Towns, Gravesend, Dartford and Woolwich to London and Luton".
  38. ^ a b "H: Sutton and Wimbledon to London via Streatham and Tulse Hill".
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Media related to Govia Thameslink Railway at Wikimedia Commons

Preceded byFirst Capital ConnectThameslink and Great Northern franchise Operator of Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise 2014/2015 – 2025 Incumbent Preceded bySouthernSouth Central (incl Gatwick Express) franchise