With tomorrow possibly seeing the UK’s hottest ever day Southeastern, along with Network Rail, have announced a significant reduction in services.
The action is being taken because rails are likely to reach at least 50c and at that temperature the risk of buckling increases.
Fewer trains means those that run will be even busier resulting in extremely uncomfortable and even dangerous conditions on board. The entire Metro stock lacks air conditioning. Indeed, the Class 376 trains they operate originally ordered by Connex are the very last to ever be ordered in the UK without air conditioning.
Does this increase the chances of a repeat of winter 2018 when people left an overcrowded and stranded train near Lewisham after service reductions left remaining trains extremely busy?
Once again we see the legacy of little long-term planning over numerous short-term franchise extensions come into play. The bulkwark of the fleet, Class 465 Networkers are almost 30 years old and lack air conditioning.
No substantial refurbishment of much of the fleet since construction means air conditioning was never added unlike some sister diesel trains named Class 165 which had it added between 2003 and 2005.
It could have been specified by the Department for Transport, or even new trains, but never has over continual extensions for months here and there. this also impacts on staffing levels. Many stations are unstaffed for some, if not most of the day. Another issue affected by terms of the franchise and a lack of specified improvements.
The issue of people jumping off trains after snow and ice held up trains at Lewisham looms large. On that day less trains ran due to ice concerns. Remaining trains were incredibly overcrowded and became extremely cold when halted for a length of time.
Tomorrow it wont be cold but heat – but people will jump from a train if held for a long time in uncomfortable conditions. It’s been seen many times. Last time heating lasted an hour before it failed and crowding resulted in accessible toilets. This time it will become extremely warm immediately and Class 376 trains do not even have toilets.
They advise people not to travel but realistically many employees just won’t be able to avoid work. It’s a tough balancing act with obvious risks of buckling rails, but Southeastern will have to make sure they have plans in place to move trains quickly should any issue arise – and need far better communications to passengers. Last time the intercom, for example, was barely audible on certain carriages. That issue still exists.