Suspicions mount over the true reason behind Southern withdrawing overnight trains from Victoria to East Croydon, as our transport correspondent JEREMY CLACKSON reports
There has never been any real need to cancel all though-the-night train services between Victoria and East Croydon, as Southern has claimed, according to a Freedom of Information request submitted by an ill-served rail passenger.
According to the latest timetable, for operations from December, Southern has failed to reinstate the after-midnight rail services out of Victoria, serving East Croydon and stations to Brighton. This may confirm many suspicions that the suspension of these services is more to do with the dispute over driver-only trains, and very little to do with “essential” engineering work, as the operators claim.
Southern first implemented the timetable changes in late May, with no consultation and at very short notice. It makes the last East Croydon train out of Victoria on five nights a week the 00.05. The lack of service has been a severe inconvenience to night workers and any rail users who have been into central London for a night out.
It was originally suggested that by shutting down the whole route overnight, the engineering works might be accomplished more quickly, and certainly within six months. The new timetable suggests the night trains will be missing throughout 2018.
Southern has suggested that passengers can travel through the night on Thameslink trains from Blackfriars – a driver-only operated route.
Some passengers have examined the rail operators’ options and maintain that as the network offers four lines through to East Croydon, there has never been any need to shut down the entire network at midnight, as Southern has claimed is necessary for trackworks. That engineering work was supposed to be a temporary inconvenience for passengers, but under the recently published timetable to operate from December, the absence of a late night service is continued.
As one frustrated passenger submitted a Freedom of Information request to Network Rail. They contacted Inside Croydon and said, “This is a four-track railway and closure of all four lines is not normally necessary.”
Our loyal reader says: “The long-running dispute between Southern and the rail workers’ union the RMT is about Driver Only Operation being the national standard. I don’t have too much of a problem with four-carriage trains being Driver Only, but 12 cars and the driver having to investigate and manage any problem that occurs back in the train needs serious consideration.
“Southern has called their second person on the train an ‘On Board Supervisor’, instead of Conductor. They should be trained to deal with some of the problems that occur daily and not stand and watch with the public while the train stops and the driver deals with the issue, things like toilet alarms, smoke alarms, door egress operations and on board information systems.
“The public want all of these issues dealt with quickly and when there is a second crew member both should be trained to get things moving.
“Much of the rolling stock on other routes needs to be replaced. I refer to Liverpool-Southport, Pacers on Northern Lines and Cardiff Valley. The Department for Transport wants these replacements to be Driver Only and this is the basis of the current disputes with RMT.”
By offering an driver-only operated route from central London through the night, Southern, and the DfT, will be able to make the case for introducing driver-only operated services elsewhere.
But after years of poor services and industrial action over this issue, Southern is now inflicting considerable inconvenience for those making night journeys towards Croydon. “Some of those travelling are employed in service industries, and going to and from work and the change in train service from Victoria routes to Thameslink is a major alteration of train service availability,” our reader writes.
“It is nonsense to suggest, as Southern has tried to do, that people can ‘transfer’ their journey from Victoria to Blackfriars to make Thameslink connections in 21 minutes. that is rubbish. There are no District or Circle Line Underground trains at that time, and to get from Victoria to Blackfriars during the night it is necessary to use two or three bus routes, with a journey time of at least double what the train operator claims.”
Adding 40 minutes on to a homeward bound journey in the early hours of the morning after a day’s work is just the latest insult to be delivered to rail users by Southern.
Meanwhile, Chris Philp, the Croydon South MP who once suggested taking the franchise off Southern and putting London commuter services into the hands of Transport for London, has gone very quiet on the matter – although he does claim the credit for getting the funding for the overnight engineering works, which have brought about a withdrawal of overnight trains from Victoria, causing extra inconvenience and expense for affected passengers.
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