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Temporary rail cuts due to London Bridge rebuild now permanent from 2018?

It looks like bad news for Southeastern passengers as recent “temporary” service cuts and slower journeys introduced by London Bridge rebuild work could be permanent after completion of the work in 2018 according to Southeastern’s planned 2018 timetable.

Over the past couple of years I’ve covered the London Bridge rebuild program which has caused much upheaval for Southeastern passengers across south east London. I’ve reported on cuts between London terminals and Deptford, Greenwich, Maze Hill and Westcombe Park, which were particularly severe in the evening peak.

In August 2016 these changes occurred:

  • During the period from 17:00-19:00 service levels of 13 trains from London Cannon Street to Greenwich reduced to 8 trains. A 38% cut.
  • Cuts for Deptford, Maze Hill and Westcombe Park stations saw 11 trains down to 8 (a 27% reduction) from 17:00-19:00.

Running shorter trains in addition to frequency cuts saw a 50% drop in capacity. Remember that Thameslink work also means no Charing Cross trains to or from those stations.

Here’s the evening rush hour reductions from August 2016, which now seem permanent:

I didn’t criticise “temporary” changes over the past few years given the major work needed to improve London Bridge, and the fact it was not supposed to last beyond completion of the project. It seemed to be worth it in the long term.

Click here to see Southeastern’s planned timetable from January 2018. Scroll down to the bottom for the planned 2018 timetable. That is when trains from Cannon Street will once again be able to stop at London Bridge.

I expected services to revert to how they were before 2016. But there’s still only around eight trains leaving London terminals shown in the future timetable from 17:00 to 19:00.

At worst perhaps a small reduction as the connecting line between Cannon Street and Waterloo East is now cut. It was used to shift trains enabling more capacity at Cannon Street. Thameslink work has stopped this to the same extent. This could have been mitigated with longer trains.

The long gaps of 22 minutes then 24 minutes between services remain.  And not only that, the padding added in to the timetable over this period has been retained. More massaging of stats. Cannon Street to Abbey Wood is two minutes slower.

In reality, I hoped for a slight improvement in journey times given more tracks and platforms being built which should reduce congestion.

Increasing the number of tracks and platforms at London Bridge from six to nine was supposed to improve things for Southeastern passengers. It was a major selling point. It was to mean less congestion on approach or departure from London Bridge as Thameslink trains wouldn’t cross Southeastern trains as services would mostly be segregated enabling quicker journeys.

Charing Cross services

More tracks and platforms for Charing Cross services was supposed to do likewise. No evidence of this at all.

It’s hard on my cursory look through to see many who use Southeastern that actually benefits from the scheme. Have a look and maybe I’m wrong.

Fast trains that run up to 2016 also seemed to have disappeared. They’ve cut trains and made the few remaining services stop at every stop. Particularly bad news for those going to Dartford and beyond.

The whole scheme seems to benefit Thameslink passengers in south and north London, which was expected, but offer little to Southeastern users.

The Greenwich line may receive two Thameslink trains an hour but that will be a whole year afterwards. And even then some Southeastern stations may see cuts alongside.

So another year with poor service for these busy stations? Even adding Thameslink’s two trains an hour service brings a net drop on service levels before the scheme commenced. And in areas with masses of housebuilding underway. I’ve recently covered many new developments around Deptford station. It’s the same at Greenwich, Maze Hill and Westcombe Park.

Close to Deptford station. One of many

Maybe planners think Crossrail coming to Abbey Wood and Woolwich means cuts further along the line are fine. Again though, Crossrail opens a whole year after. And peak gaps of near 25 minutes just aren’t acceptable at very busy stations such as Greenwich. It appears to be getting the worst service in decades after the completion of a scheme that was sold as bringing many improvements.

Was this always the plan yet kept quiet? Has this come about due to Chris Grayling becoming Transport Secretary and George Osborne cutting the transport budget massively at the 2015 spending review? Many Tory voters are on sticky ground after this if commenting on poor rail services. It adds to a catalogue of improvements now probably shelved due to Tory action such as:

  • More all-day staffing at stations to man barriers and improve safety, especially at night.
  • Lower fares upon joining the TfL fare scale
  • Longer ticket office hours
  • Lewisham station and track upgrade work
  • Upgrade work at places such as Woolwich Dockyard for 12-car services
  • Longer trains and more capacity
  • More stabling space for trains
  • Integration with house building to provide additional income and better facilities

Much of that will go down the drain, or at least happen on a far more limited scale with Tories blocking TfL control and cutting huge sums from both the national transport budget and £700m from TfL. And local Tories have mostly ignored it and tried to divert attention elsewhere.

 

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12 Comments

  1. Dan

    I really hope this is a mistake. A permanent timetable that has double the capacity during off-peak hours is crazy.

    The timetable is marked as consultative – is there somewhere we can give feedback? I can’t see it.

  2. Rob

    Bloody hell its laughable. Surely it’ll change by the end of 2018? What was it all for. A station with more space and that’s it? Chris Grayling behind this?

  3. This will be an improvement if journey times are kept. Trains from Greenwich were waiting outside London Bridge for up to 5 minutes all of the time before.

    However, a train every 5-8 minutes at commute times was expected.

    • I get your point about the waits but they’ve added in timetable padding recently which increased journey times by up to 5 minutes on many services, and those aren’t going in the 2018 draft timetable. So we end up with less trains and no faster journeys due to stretched out timetables after this very expensive scheme is complete.

  4. Susan

    Surely Southeastern have messed up. This can’t be right. 3 years of disruption and a worse service than before? Grayling and the Tories at work with cuts?

  5. Plumstead Resident

    OMG! That timetable hasn’t improved peak hours trains on the Plumstead to Cannon St routes. If anything it’s made things worse as the trains will be slower as they will now call at London Bridge and pick up even more passengers in the evening. Roll on Crossrail!

  6. Crossrail is presumably the reason for the cuts- still a year after Jan 2018 though. And no good for stations closer to London and the many new homes around those stations.

  7. Anon

    Perhaps the Lewisham – Woolwich link in the peaks – which was introduced in mid 2016 in by diverting trains away from Greenwich and Cannon Street to run via Lewisham into Charing Cross – has been more popular than they thought.

    Would expect the timetable to change again in May 2018 anyway, to accommodate Thameslink trains.

  8. Paul

    Wow that’s really shocking. I live at maze Hill and had hoped for an improved service after the works were complete. This is terrible. Especially with all the new flats in East Greenwich

  9. Ian

    Have you taken into account that Thameslink will be running peak time trains to Sevenoaks and Ashford? These used to be SE but will go to TL.

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