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West Norfolk rail operator 'faces franchise axe threat' over timetable chaos

West Norfolk's main rail operator could hit the buffers unless it acts quickly to resolve timetable problems
West Norfolk's main rail operator could hit the buffers unless it acts quickly to resolve timetable problems

West Norfolk's main train operator could be set to lose its franchise because of the disruption caused by its new timetables.

National media reports at the weekend suggested Govia Thameslink (GTR), which runs Great Northern, could face the axe within the next two weeks unless urgent action is taken to resolve the crisis.

Although the company insists it is doing all it can to resolve the problems, the prospect of action has been welcomed today.

North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham said it was "quite right" for the government to consider the move and said staff, as well as passengers, had been let down.

He said: "There has been a fundamental lack of leadership, of strong management.

"They haveabsolutely got to get a grip and fix it and if they don't, the Secretary of State has to take action."

Labour's Jo Rust, who led a protest outside Lynn's station over the current state of services last week, said she was also encouraged by the reports.

She added: "This would send a clear message to all the operators that they have to do more.

"If this was a public service which failed as much as they are doing, it would have been held to account a long time ago."

Passengers on the GTR network have faced consistent disruption since the introduction of new timetables in May.

Last month, GTR and Network Rail issued a joint statement apologising for the problems, before the operator's chief executive, Charles Horton, subsequently resigned.

A GTR spokesman said: "We are sorry for the disruption which we are working very hard to fix. We are doing all we can to improve things for our passengers in the coming weeks.

"This includes working with the DfT and Network Rail on the new interim timetable for Thameslink and Great Northern which will operate from 15 July.

"This interim timetable prioritises peak-hours services and reduces service gaps.

"This is a key stage in our work to provide a more reliable service to passengers over the coming months."

But Mrs Rust said sorry was no longer enough for passengers.

She said: "Apologies don't cut the mustard when you're facing sanctions in the workplace or if you can't get to a Job Centre appointment."

Sir Henry said the current crisis affecting GTR and Northern services, as well as the return of the East Coast Main Line franchise to public ownership, raised broader questions about the structure of the rail network.

But he maintains that reforming the current system to put operators in charge of maintaining the infrastructure as well as the services, would help.

He also played down fears that a potential decline in passenger numbers because of the current problems could undermine the case for upgrades to it.

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