The 18.19 to Coulsdon South: it’s no way to run a railway

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Has Chris Philp got his railway lines crossed? Or is he simply doing a bit of grandstanding? NICK DAVIES takes issue with his constituency MP over the real problems with our commuter services

Chris Philp can shout at Southern all he likes, but the blame for the mess over rail services into central London from Croydon lies entirely with the Department for Transport.

Southern trainFor Southern isn’t a franchise in the usually accepted sense of the term, but a management contract. DafT pay Govia Thameslink Railway a 10-figure sum each year to run the railway. GoDire pay the fare revenue directly to DafT. For all intents and purposes, the railway is nationalised, with the day-to-day operation contracted out. DafT is entirely responsible for awarding the contract to the cheapest bidder, in full knowledge of them not being up to the task.

Southern’s shortcomings were reported in these pages long ago. See this, for example, from 2012.

Nothing has changed. On the 18 days the 18.19 from Victoria to Coulsdon South could have run in December, the service was never on time.

The service was less than five minutes late just three times; and it was an astonishing 15 minutes or more late six times; on two occasions it was more than half an hour late; and it failed to run at all on one occasion.

Much of this chaos, as so often with Southern, at times when people want to take leave, was put down to “staff shortages”. One has to seriously question the competence of an organisation that can’t work out a holiday rota.

MP Chris Philp: ecstatic on hearing that the 18.19 from Victoria to Coulsdon South is running on time

MP Chris Philp: ecstatic on hearing that the 18.19 from Victoria to Coulsdon South is running on time

Chris Philp and his friends should be campaigning for a long, hard look at the way the DafT awards these contracts, though I doubt they’ll get much sense from the minister.

As Claire Perry has said, “Putting passengers first is at the heart of DfT policy” …and the combined franchise would… “deliver a step-change on key routes and drive up customer satisfaction. We believe that GTR is best placed to work in partnership with the government. Our ambition is to meet and exceed customer expectations.”

You quickly lose the will to live reading this guff.

Unless attitudes change in government and within DaFT, we’re in for a long wait for our expectations to be met. For the train home to be on time just once in a month would be a start.

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5 Responses to The 18.19 to Coulsdon South: it’s no way to run a railway

  1. dave1152 says:

    One thing that will be on time from Southern will be the fare rise in the New Year

  2. Lewis White says:

    As a daily commuter up to London Bridge from Coulsdon South and Coulsdon Town, I sympathise with those who run what must be one of the oldest and most complex transport systems in the World, with hundreds of stations, scores of lines, and several hundred trains in movement at any given time, all separated by signals which are prone to electrical failure, etc etc.

    I sometimes wonder how it is possible for a train to be routinely 3 to 10 minutes late (the 9:25 to Vitoria, and 9:28 to London Bridge), and whether there are some key locations such as Redhill, where lines have to cross, that cause problems if one train is late.

    Most trains used to zoom into East Croydon from the South, but now crawl into it. One wonders why? perhaps safety?

    By and large, I am satisfied with my daily commute, and marvel that more does not go wrong.
    The biggest annoyance in my own experience is that when things DO go wrong, announcements are not given promptly or at all. Too often a last minute change of platforms means that people can’t transit via the new bridge (yes, bring back the Tunnel……. ). Perhaps this is a way of giving commuters more exercise, thus tackling the Croydon obesity crisis of which I am a large part. However it adds “Customer frustration”, as do the tiny electronic destination signs on the bridge, which are so small, and too tiny to read from a distance, in a space so large.

    I don’t think that in a system with so many technical parts, so many services, and so many humans, that a perfect railway is possible, but leadership when things go wrong is achievable.

  3. Rod Davies says:

    Is there any analysis of passenger journeys to show how many people are travelling to the London termini from each station on these lines?

    I have long thought that a high-frequency shuttle service between East Croydon and the London stations, and making East Croydon an inter-change station would be an efficient way of moving people. Virtually every day on my homeward journey the train gets to East Croydon, passengers get off and the train leaves east Croydon seemingly half-empty.

    As the future 40,000+ new homes are constructed in Croydon, the demand upon services to London will escalate, and it is not evident to me that sufficient capacity is being built into the system. Is it justified running services to south of Croydon if the trains are often half empty?

  4. Nick Davies says:

    As I said last time you suggested this you can’t physically run any more trains between East Croydon and Victoria/London Bridge. Building some more platforms at East Croydon so you can turn trains back won’t help you – and will actually reduce capacity as you’ll have trains crossing in front of each other – and mean fewer, more crowded trains coming up from further south.

    But jam tomorrow: an important driver for the Thameslink scheme is to allow more trains to run on through London Bridge thus eliminating the turnaround time there. That will mean, come 2018, more trains between East Croydon and London.

    • Rod Davies says:

      It is my understanding that there are to be more platforms constructed at East Croydon adjacent to Lansdowne Rd and that is why that site is no longer available for housing / office development. As part of this development, I believe that it is planned to demolish the Lwr Addiscombe / St James Rd bridge and replace it with a larger and wider bridge.

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