JEREMY CLACKSON, transport correspondent, on the latest, inevitable erosion of rail services by stealth for Croydon
Southern Railway’s effort to reduce services out of Victoria on the Brighton line, via East Croydon, will take another big step forward at noon today when their barely publicised public “consultation” on their night-time services closes.
Southern wants to make permanent its withdrawal of its week night services between Victoria, East Croydon, Surrey, Sussex and Brighton, with no trains operating out of the mainline terminus after five minutes past midnight from Sundays to Thursdays until commuter services resume.
The withdrawal of the service will be a massive blow to night-time and shift workers who live in and around Croydon and need to get home from the city centre, as well as West End theatre-goers and diners, who will have many fewer options when planning their homeward journey.
It is also likely to adversely impact any efforts Croydon makes to improve its night-time economy, deterring visitors from south London and the south coast to stay late in the town centre when their public transport options have been removed.
Govia Thameslink, the Southern operators, brought in the night-time service changes in May, at short notice and without even consulting Transport for London. Then, it was presented as a temporary measure, allowing “essential” engineering works (they are always essential) to be carried out on the tracks, they claimed.
But the service restriction was never really necessary.
As Inside Croydon reported in September, it has been shown that with four tracks on the London to Brighton route, it could have been feasible to continue to operate an overnight service on two lines. That remains the case.
Freedom of Information requests for a selection of engineering notices found no weeknight dates since May this year when all four lines were closed.
Transport watchers and commuter champions have been suspicious of Southern’s motives and intentions for some time, as the rail operator has failed to produce a timetable for night-time services beyond the trial period, which was supposed to expire this month.
Now, it seems clear that Southern wants to entrench the reduced service permanently.
With Southern continuing to operate a service without a full complement of staff, including drivers, their removing the night-time services gives its management the opportunity to redeploy some drivers at other times.
But there is also another, Tory Government-backed underhand motive behind the reduction in service.
Southern is encouraging passengers to consider using the Thameslink service that runs through Blackfriars, claiming that it takes 21 minutes to get there from Victoria. This might be true when the District and Circle lines are operating on the Tube, but there are no trains on those Tube lines much after midnight.
Thameslink operates Driver-Only-Operated trains. By offering a driver-only route from central London through the night, Southern, and DafT, the Department for Transport, will make the case for introducing driver-only operated services elsewhere.
This is all presented by Southern as an “improvement” in service, and as a “transformation”, as their consultation site weds it to a £7billion investment.
Many Croydon residents, after working late in London and with no public transport means of getting home, will be left wondering how that can possibly be described as an improvement, as the only thing they see transformed is 20 quid in their pockets transformed into the cost of a taxi.
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