Chaos spread in some of England’s main railway stations after train operating company Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) rescheduled every service on its Great Northern, Thameslink and Southern brands as part of a major overhaul.

The rail disruption started on Sunday with changes made on over 3,000 trains operated by GTR and continued on what unions are calling ‘Meltdown Monday’. Travellers experienced similar issues in the north of England, with delays being registered in several routes covered by Northern.

GTR announced last week it would reschedule every train in its franchise in a bid to improve efficiency in the South East. Under the plan, the operator said 400 extra trains per day and new direct services from 80 stations into central London would be introduced, contributing to a 13% service increase across the GTR network and 50,000 additional passengers during peak hours. Arriva Rail North Ltd, which operates the Northern franchise, further said schedule changes would add 1,300 extra services to the network.

However, dozens of trains were cancelled before 9am on Sunday, with an email sent by GTR early in the morning warning of 66 ‘potential cancellations’ taking place across the Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express routes.

GTR described the new timetable as ‘the biggest change to rail timetables in a generation’ and claimed some disruptions were expected at the beginning’. The operator apologised for the delays on Sunday and said the changes are a ‘significant logistical challenge’. A spokesperson added on Monday that ‘despite some cancellations, passengers will benefit from an overall increase in capacity with immediate effect’.

GTR chief executive Charles Horton said: “We don’t want passengers to get caught out and so we strongly advise them to look up the times of their trains as they will find that from 20 May each and every one of them has changed.

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“Due to the sheer scale of the changes, we will have to redeploy a large number of trains and crews and services may not run at normal times during the introductory phase, although the impact on peak time services during the transition will be minimal.”

According to unions, the disruption was caused by the lack of fully trained drivers, while the RMT said reports from both Northern and GTR suggested a ‘hopeless lack of planning, combined with a shortage of crew and fleet, which has reduced the Monday morning journey to a nightmare for many passengers’.