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Is the Greenwich line Thameslink service a fares raid by Grayling and attempt to undermine TfL?

The lesser spotted Thameslink. Image courtesy of julienghien1 under Creative Commons 2.0

With Thameslink trains now beginning to stop again at London Bridge it’s a good time to look at the planned Thameslink service along the Woolwich line.

From May services are due to run from Rainham in Kent through Greenwich to London Bridge then up the Thameslink tunnels to Luton via Farringdon.

The choice of running Thameslink trains along the Greenwich line raised many questions when announced. It was something of a last minute decision to implement.

Many asked why it didn’t run via the Bexleyheath or Sidcup lines which would avoid crossing the paths of other trains on the approach the London Bridge. It seemed to negate some of the benefit of untangling lines.

Abbey Wood station

One suggestion has been rumbling around recently. Could it be that running Thameslink through those other lines wouldn’t allow the Department for Transport to nab a disproportionate amount of fares revenue away from Crossrail and TfL?

Here’s how it could work; Crossrail will run from Abbey Wood to Paddington and then Heathrow via Farringdon. Thameslink will also run from Abbey Wood to Farringdon on the way to Luton though at a far lower frequency (two trains an hour) and much slower.

Even if passengers use Crossrail to travel from Abbey Wood to Farringdon (or possibly other stations) the Department for Transport will receive part of that income through a system known as ORCATS as theoretically people could have used Thameslink (even if they didn’t as the frequency is much lower).

TfL funding problems

At a time the government cut funding from TfL (and blocked Southeastern services passing to them) this could be another attempt to undermine Transport for London.

TfL have funding issues after George Osborne cut £700 million in funding back in 2015 and chancellor Philip Hammond has done nothing to reverse that.

The partial fares freeze by Sadiq Khan has exacerbated the issue, though given very high fares in London relative to other major cities halting ever-increasing costs is understandable.

It’s not just London suffering from neglect of transport despite population growth. You can add in pretty much all other English cities to those affected by  government policy. Grayling also blocked devolution to other areas of the country.

He has already shown in his letter opposing rail devolution to London’s Mayor that he is willing to let political tricks override what is best for a city and its economy. That letter led to his own Tory colleague Bob Neill MP (Chislehurst and Bromley) calling for him to resign.

With Grayling what’s best for an area never seems to be at the forefront of his thinking. Is this another one of his games which will ultimately have wide ranging detrimental effects?

Image courtesy of julienghien1 under Creative Commons 2.0 

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31 Comments

  1. gwest

    I like to think it must have been because I suggested it in a consultation at some point:) Can’t see much foul play behind it, think both starting at Abbey wood is more reinforcing each other than competition. Most people use season tickets anyways and will transfer to tube from Thameslink.

    Hopefully Grayling will leave soon but Thameslink will be there to stay, and become the first fully integrated TFL connection (on the tube map!) passing fully through SE london.

    Extremely happy about it; so much more useful than (from Greenwich) the option between going to cannon street and bank which are essentially the same place.

  2. Greenwich observer

    Greenwich and SE London has always suffered from poor transport links relative to other parts of London. Having the option of using a thameslink service into central London from Greenwich will be a massive improvement.

    Assuming the service runs with new rolling stock I would definitely use this service in preference to south eastern services on the line. Perhaps it will encourage south eastern to update its rolling stock……

  3. Plumstead Resident

    Interesting conspiracy theory, but I welcome the new service whatever the reason. It should mean we can get a direct train to north London (W Hampstead) for the first time.

    I am a sceptic about how reliable the Greenwich Thameslink service will be.

    Only time will tell.

    • fromthemurkydepths

      According to those ‘in the know’ it was a definite factor in choosing to run it on the line.

      On a personal level its great for me too, but I do wonder the wider pact on TfLs stretched funds, and after all the time and money spent untangling lines on London Bridge approaches (and saying Southeastern trains can only go to one terminal due to crossing over other lines) its curious they dropped this in at the last minute when it means crossing over other lines. Everything Network Rail have spent years and billions trying to lessen.

  4. Jon

    Ironically, the transfer of the Medway service to Thameslink actually made a transfer of the remaining parts of Southeastern’s metro network to TfL much more suitable, because the current Gillingham service is the only major incursion of the metro network into Kent.

    With this service transferred, the metro network terminates neatly within London, or just outside it at Dartford and Sevenoaks.

    It’s a shame that, having created a neat division between metro and mainline, the DfT decided to let them both as a single franchise again.

  5. Chris

    If they can cross over the lines prior to London Bridge why don’t they introduce a direct service to somewhere more people want to go to than Luton?

    Charing Cross for example….

  6. Dan

    The crossing over isn’t actually too bad, as it’s just got to pass over the Cannon Street lines. Going towards London, the service can actually use the dive-under to avoid crossing over the Thameslink line running away from London. It’ll be the only service to use this piece of track (almost like they designed the junction with this in mind…).

    A Charing Cross service would need to cross even more tracks, potentially needing to be cleared over all the Cannon Street, Thameslink and Charing Cross lines at once.

  7. Richard

    So does this mean that the pay as you go oyster fare for a journey between Farringdon and Abbey Wood would be the same, irrespective of whether the journey was taken on Crossrail or on a Thaneslink train?

    Presumably this would have to be the lower (underground) fare as most people would take that route as it is quickest and most frequent?

    There are some reasons why taking the Thameslink would make sense, like if you wanted to take a bike on board.

    If this is the case, would it give a discrepancy whereby a train from Farringdon to Abbey Wood is actually cheaper than a train from Farringdon to Woolwich Arsenal as there is no National Rail / Crossrail interchange at Woolwich?

    • Jon

      The fare will be the same, although I’ve not seen anything to suggest it’ll be an underground fare. More likely Crossrail will use the National Rail fare scheme, I’d have thought.

      • Richard

        So the same fares as South Eastern currently use, which are higher than the equivalent DLR fares?

        I assume that the situation in the original article all comes about as you can interchange between Crossrail and national rail at both Abbey Wood and Farringdon, so they wouldn’t know which service you used?

        Whether they price Abbey Wood to Farringdon as Zone 4 to 1 on the underground fare scheme, or Zone 4 to 1 on the scheme which Southestern (and presumably Thameslink) use, there’s going to be some sort of discrepancy, surely?

        A longer trip from Abbey Wood to Tottenham Court Road would be cheaper than a shorter trip from Abbey Wood to Farringdon, if they price the Farringdon journey on the National Rail scale and the Tottenham Court Road trip on the underground scale?

        Unless every journey from Abbey Wood gets priced on the National Rail fare scale, regardless of where it is going, which would be very annoying.

        • fromthemurkydepths

          If Crossrail is priced on the National Rail fare scheme from Abbey Wood it could possibly have the highest fares in London on the service.

          Z4-Z1 on the Western branch would be £3.90 peak and £2.80 off-peak. Same on the eastern branch. South eastern branch from Abbey Wood would be £4.10 peak and £3.00 off-peak.

          Not very fair. Sure, it’s only 40p a day. But for a part time worker doing 3 days that £1.20 a week. Potentially £50 a year. If a higher charge is levied for changing to tube from Crossrail that jumps substantially. Currently SE passengers pay a £1.70 surcharge per trip which those in west and east London do not.

          • Richard

            Do fares from Abbey Wood could be higher than Woolwich, even though they are in the same zone?

            Seems a bit unfair to charge Abbey Wood customers more just because there aren’t any barriers separating National Rail and Crossrail!

        • anonymous201486

          @Richard: the DLR is light rail and you can go from end to end for £1.50 off peak.

  8. fromthemurkydepths

    Possibly. Its all a big hazy at the moment with fares. The DfT will be trying to extract the maximum for them (which would mean more from Abbey Wood).

    If it’s a sizable amount more a lot of people in, say, Thamesmead, would take a bus to Woolwich instead of Abbey Wood assuming Woolwich is cheaper and they don’t also stick that on the National Rail fare zone. If they do that then would mean more use DLR than expected as it’ll be cheaper than Crossrail.

    To be honest I think a fair few people from Thamesmead will go Woolwich Crossrail anyway. The single lane Harrow Manorway flyover by Abbey Wood station (formally with its own bus lane) could be a choke point for arriving buses from Thamesmead.

    Add in 1000s of new homes along Harrow Manorway and nearby area & increased cars to Sainsburys and it could be congested, though there are new bus lanes coming to Harrow Manorway. We’ll see how it all shakes out.

    • Jon

      I have no evidence to support this, but I have always assumed that all fares from Abbey Wood would indeed get priced on the National Rail fare scale, which would mean a Southeastern-type fare to Farringdon and a Southeastern + tube supplement to Tottenham Court Road.

      Crossrail will bring frequency, speed and journey opportunities but I very much doubt it’ll bring economy. I think it is safest to assume that and then if it differs it’ll be a nice surprise.

  9. Plumstead Resident

    According to this the Elizabeth Line has Tube fares:

    https://londonist.com/london/transport/everything-you-need-to-know-about-crossrail

  10. Richard

    One last question to tie this all together… if the fares from Abbey Wood are on the National Rail scale, does that mean that the decision to run the Thameslink trains along the Greenwich line mean the following is happening;

    A) DfT get a greater share of ticket revenue than they would by running along the Bexleyheath (or any other) line.

    B) Passengers from Abbey Wood would be the ones subsidising the increased share of revenue going to the Dft

    C) TfL would receive less income than they would if Thameslink used another line

    D) People along other lines in the South East get fewer terminus options

    While I was in support of the initial poposal to have Thameslink trains on the Greenwich line, there is no way that I would have supported it had I known this. Very shady behaviour from the DfT if this was their plan all along!

    I can’t imagine that the higher prices are going to go down well with commuters either – especially those who take short journies from Abbey Wood – to Canary Wharf for example. To charge that on the National Rail fare scale would look a very strange move – but they also couldn’t have two systems running concurrently.

    Is there any precedent for this kind of national rail / underground interchange elsewhere in the city?

  11. Dan

    Could this also change how fares get allocated (from May) for passengers who might be travelling on the DLR via Bank, from Greenwich and Woolwich?

    Currently if you make a trip from Greenwich to a tube station, say Liverpool Street, without touching out, the system will know you traveled on the DLR via Bank (you’d have to touch in and out at London Bridge or Cannon Street if you traveled on SouthEastern). However when Thameslink starts running, you might have used that and changed at Farringdon (without touching in or out) and used the tube from there.

    The other thing to consider is that even if the Greenwich line didn’t see a Thameslink service, it would still be possible to do Abbey Wood – Farringdon on National Rail, just changing at London Bridge (without touching in/out).

    • GWEST

      Are you sure there are not going to be gates between rail and tube in Farringdon, like in Lbridge

      • Dan

        Yes, Farringdon is currently operating for Thameslink and Tube services and there are no barriers between them. It would be impractical to put barriers in as it is a cross platform interchange at the same level.

        I believe there will also be no barriers between the Thameslink platforms and crossrail platforms when they open

  12. Ndog

    This is certainly a positive. This will offer some light relief for commuters who aren’t in a mad rush. When it arrives, I am sure the majority of passengers filling out crossrail trains won’t think to use DLR or TL. So it Should free up a bit of space. Also, it’s another line connecting up with south east London, about time.

  13. Kirsti

    Fare finder services appear to have now been updated to reflect the Thameslink services from Abbey Wood & this gives peak time fares to Farringdon as being £4.10, so national rail prices.
    Previous Crossrail fare announcement from Mayor of London states tube fares will apply to Crossrail. Not sure how that will be achieved in practice unless we see oyster fares from abbey wood brought down to TfL prices once Crossrail opens.
    I would like that to be so, but not expecting it.

  14. harvey

    I would favour this service more if it weren’t an all stations service, it’s not much fun not only losing Charing X, Waterloo East, Lewisham and Blackheath, but an increased journey time into London, certainly not going to be fun stopping at minor stations, when in truth this should only call at Gravesend, Greenhithe, Dartford, Abbey Wood, Woolwich Arsenal, Charlton, Greenwich then into the Thameslink core, otherwise I’d rather keep the existing semi fast service than have a cross London service which will create conflict at North Kent East Junction, which was why they untangled the junctions in the first place

    • Jon

      Not sure where you travel from, but there is a replacement semi fast service via Sidcup.

      • harvey

        Which starts at Gravesend I live in Rochester, and most of us in Medway are furious that our semi fasts have taken away without so much of a whimper, also in terms of fast connectivity, the Sidcup line is utterly useless compared to the Woolwich line.

        I just feel that this new service is geared for the inner suburbs and has no benefits for us Medway commuters, Does Plumstead and Slade Green really need 8tph?? I hope that GTR will.eventually listen to us in Medway and give back our semi fasts, its unreasonable to have our journey’s made longer just because inner suburban passengers feel that 6tph isn’t enough and they don’t want to wait a few extra minutes

        • Jon

          I do sympathise, but Medway commuters travelling to London Bridge do also get the peak fast services via (but not calling at) Chislehurst.

          You complain that suburban commuters should wait a few extra minutes, but that is exactly what you are refusing to do! Nothing comes without a cost, and on a busy two-track railway I think that serving more passengers is more important than providing a faster journey to those who choose to live further away.

          If you are travelling to Abbey Wood for the Elizabeth Line then I can see that stops at the likes of Northfleet and Stone Crossing are annoying. The Gravesend service feels like a more natural fit for these stations, but it would mean they had to change to reach Crossrail.

          • harvey

            Its not just peak services we are annoyed about but rail services that are non premium HS1 have gotten worse, Medway is too far away outside London to have a all stops service in general, Plumstead and Slade Green had 6tph this is hardly a poor service yet it is expected that our services should slow down because that isn’t enough?? It’s almost as if inner suburban commuters expect Medway or outer city commuters to just put up and shut up with a rubbish service which knowing GTR, it will be below par.

          • Carl

            Where do you live if you don’t mind me asking? Because I think those who commute in from Medway or any other outer city settlement deserves faster trains into London sorry if that sounds snobbish but its the truth GTR are looking to review the stopping patterns on the Rainham service after Crossrail fully opens, so hopefully they will axe a few stations Kent County Council are lobbying this, 6tph is hardly 2tph now is it

          • Jon

            You get fast city services during the peaks, and a good range of destinations including St Pancreas for visiting elsewhere in the country and Victoria for the West End. You are not that hard done by.

            What you do deserve is more than 2tph to Abbey Wood for Crossrail and less of a premium on HS2. Expecting services to rush past busy stations on a two track railway is unrealistic. It is a poor use of track capacity. Other comparable stations with faster services will typically be on four track lines.

          • Harvey

            So we should only have fast services in the peaks?? Even Victoria trains vis Bromley are basically stoppers now l, try living further outside London before you say we aren’t that hard done by, I don’t pay for a metro service,but nor should people have to pay premium fares for HS1 either, and Charing Cross is more centrally West End than Victoria. The North Kent must go 10tph in the future, interestingly they mention Maidstone West trains running via Abbey Wood & Woolwich from the 2020s I wonder what this will replace

          • Jon

            Maidstone will be an optional extension for bidders from 2022. It will have to call at Plumstead and (bizarrely) Woolwich Dockyare) but not Slade Green, Belvedere or Erith.

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