Not long now until the first changes to rail services begin on Monday, and some last minute changes are still being announced. TfL have just announced 30 extra buses to help from Monday:
- Ten additional double deck buses on Route 21 between London Bridge to Lewisham via New Cross during the evening peak
- Ten additional buses on Route 47 between London Bridge (Duke Street Hill) and Lewisham via Bermondsey
- Ten additional Route 381 buses acting as a shuttle between London Bridge and Waterloo stations during the morning and evening peaks
This is in addition to an announcement in December of extra shuttle buses between Charlton station and north Greenwich, with buses starting from Charlton station at 7.50am, 8.00am, 8.10am, 8.20am, 8.30am and 8.40am. Extra buses on route 129 to Greenwich town centre were also announced and begun last week.
Much good for SE passengers?
It’s hard to see just how useful the latest announcements will be for many on the Greenwich line, or those heading to Lewisham.
Route 47 is painfully slow. I tried it a couple of times when I lived in Deptford to get to London Bridge. That was more than enough. It was timetabled to take 41 minutes from London Bridge to Deptford. The train is just 6 minutes. Lewisham takes 48 minutes on that route verses 8 minutes on a train. The main purpose of more buses could be to get passengers heading south to Canada Water from London Bridge, then a London Overground train south.
Route 21 takes 50 minutes from London Bridge to Lewisham. The train only takes 8. This could mainly be to help people on the Old Kent Road and those getting to New Cross Gate.
A better solution for those on the Greenwich line, if crowding is bad, would be an express bus to Deptford & Greenwich.
These plans seem to have been announced pretty late in the day. TfL never suggested them in previous months when they were asked about London Bridge related changes. I’m not sure where the operators have found the additional drivers and buses so quickly, so maybe the plans have been on the cards for a while but they didn’t want to announce in case they couldn’t find the resources? Who knows.
It’s probably worth also pointing out that a London wide bus strike is currently planned for Tuesday 13th January.
Southern problems last week
No one could have missed the problems that occurred on the Southern side of London Bridge last week. Due to the inability of the station to cope, some large alterations were made. By mid-week the 1636, 1706, 1738, 1806 and 1836 from London Bridge to West Croydon were all cancelled for the rest of the week. It looks as though that will continue this week.
Many passengers on that line are forced elsewhere. Some will turn to Southeastern services, which call at certain stations located close to Southern stations. For example, with so many Sydenham trains cancelled, some will use SE services to Lower Sydenham station. Another is Southern’s New Cross Gate passengers moving to Southeastern’s New Cross.
With passengers for Deptford and Greenwich being advised to switch to New Cross and Lewisham trains, this additional flow from Southern will add to crowding if Greenwich line passengers switch.
This shift will also push more people over to the SE concourse from the Southern side in the evening peak. With longer gaps between Greenwich line trains and reduced capacity, the scope for platform crowding increases.
The other option offered to displaced Southern passengers was to take the Jubilee line to Canada Water and then change to London Overground. Both of those services are already extremely busy, and Jubilee line stations were having to close the past week. Forcing yet more people onto the Jubilee Line is far from ideal. Bear in mind that with the link between Charing Cross, Waterloo East & London Bridge cut, more Southeastern passengers are supposed to take the Jubilee from Waterloo & Southwark to London Bridge, and some passengers on the Greenwich line are advised to take the Jubilee line from London Bridge to North Greenwich.
At least on the London Overground, TfL have been ordering new carriages which are being added to trains right now, and TfL have upgraded the Jubilee line and added more trains. Southeastern have not had the benefit of new stock.
Southeastern’s 12 carriage trains
We know there will be no 12-car trains on the Greenwich line despite reduced evening peak capacity. However, word has got out about 12-car running on other lines. It appears that even if issues are resolved and they can run (no confirmation yet) there will only be three in the morning peak heading to central London. Two are on the Sevenoaks line (07:17 & 07:37 to Cannon Street) and one on the Sidcup line (07:28 Gravesend to Cannon Street).
In the evening rush hour there is only one – the 17:21 Cannon Street to Gravesend.
Who is to blame?
The responsibility for a lack of stock to run 12 carriage trains goes back a long way. In 2006, the Labour government reprivatised Southeastern after it had come under state control in 2003 following the failure of Connex. The Labour government forced the country’s highest fare increases on the area (RPI + 3% each year) but no new stock for metro routes serving SE London and towns like Dartford. The Labour government also stopped the transfer of metro routes to TfL, who have shown far more ability to improve services than Whitehall ever has.
As the government hold all the cards when it comes to ordering and upgrading trains, Southeastern can’t be blamed for it. If the government had stipulated additional trains when the 2006 franchise was awarded, they would have been in place by the original franchise end date of 2012.
Fast forward to 2012 and the coalition are in power. The Department for Transport made a complete bodge of awarding the West Coast franchise so all decisions on future franchises nationwide were halted. SE were given a short term extension. Despite Thameslink work now only a couple of years away, and the knowledge of severe alterations to SE services, no new stock was announced. Finally, in 2014 SE were given another extension – 4 years. By that stage, even if new trains were announced it was too late for them to be ready by January 2015. All that was announced was some transfers of stock in December 2017 – just as London Bridge rebuilding is completing and Crossrail is close to opening.
What happened last week doesn’t bode well for this coming week. Then again, the constant publicity may have had an impact. Expect an army of people in high-viz across the network tomorrow. It may surprise everyone and go smoothly, but even if that happens over the first few weeks, what happens in 6 months or a year with demand ever rising?
The resilience of the network with these changes also looks flimsy. If something small goes wrong will it all topple? For example, something small like one stuck train door for 10 minutes at London Bridge. The potential strike this week will not help, though that’s pretty exceptional. It looks as though some bad weather arrives on Wednesday/Thursday. That may be quite revealing.
Even if all the available options had been taken up to help with the changes it would never be an easy three years. But all options havn’t been taken up. When such large, and much needed changes occur, all mitigating measures should’ve been adopted. That meant securing additional trains, and getting that ball rolling years ago. What we will have instead is the vast majority of trains running below the maximum lengths possible due to a lack of stock and that could, and should, have been avoided.
EDIT: Shortly after posting this I saw a post on twitter about changes from Dartford to London Bridge. See here for details.
- In the morning peak 24 trains from Dartford to London Bridge are reduced to 10.
- In the evening peak 20 trains from London Bridge to Dartford are reduced to 8.
The vast majority of the remaining 10 trains in the morning, and 8 in the evening, will run via Greenwich. Thus they cannot be more that 10 carriages and on the line sees the biggest cuts. Dartford is a station with 3 million users a year. The alternative for Dartford passengers is to change if they want London Bridge – eg travel to Lewisham then change. Why would they do this when they can get a seat at Dartford? It’s unlikely many will, and it could see busier trains arriving further along the line at Woolwich, Charlton etc.