UK train operators have decided to scale back their next timetable overhaul, which was planned for December 2018, to avoid a repeat of the rail disruption that took place in May following the introduction of a new schedule.

Train timetables are usually rescheduled twice a year – in the summer and in the winter –to improve punctuality and boost capacity. However, what was labelled at the biggest ever rail timetable overhaul turned out to be more damaging than helpful.

Govia Thameslink Railway and Northern are among the eight franchises that encountered the most problems during the overhaul, which led to dozens of train cancellations and delays every day. Both operators have therefore opted to postpone their new overhaul to 2019.

Cross Country, Great Western Railway, London Overground, South Western Railway (SWR), TransPennine Express and West Midlands Trains also announced they will not amend their timetables this winter, while other operators will introduce only minor changes.

Infrastructure manager Network Rail labelled the recent problems as ‘painful lessons’, which, however, are yet to be learnt as operators continue to struggle with new service schedules.

Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy said that the majority of changes will be introduced gradually over the next few overhauls in a bid to make services more reliable. He added: “The railway industry has taken a long, hard look at its plans for the next timetable change in December and, taking into account recent painful lessons, the industry has scaled back its ambition and tempered it with a more cautious, phased approach to introducing the new timetable.

“The railway is too vital for the health and wealth of our country to risk a repeat of the mistakes of May, and this more balanced approach of ambition and caution is absolutely the right thing to do for the millions who rely on our railway every day.”

Industry body The Rail Delivery Group welcomed the decision and the franchises’ wish to take a more cautious approach to the overhaul. Chief executive Paul Plummer said: “In parts of the country, many people have suffered unacceptable disruption following the introduction of the new timetable in May for which we are sincerely sorry. The industry is determined to learn the lessons from what went wrong.”

South Western Railway expressed its disappointment at the decision, as its previously planned timetable change in December would have led to increased capacity.

Transport Focus chief executive Anthony Smith said that the announcement will help maintain a more dependable service, though claimed that “long-suffering passengers who have put up with much inconvenience … will be disappointed that promised improvements may be delivered more slowly”.