It’s Meltdown Monday as Southern’s new train timetable bites

Entirely predictably, Govia Thameslink, the operators in charge of Southern train services, have caused complete chaos with their new timetable, as our transport correspondent JEREMY CLACKSON reports


No one needed to study the works of Nostradamus to predict the train chaos yesterday and today, as probably the world’s least reliable rail network introduced a new timetable.

“The new Thameslink train timetable has completely revolutionised the way I don’t get where I’m going on time,” as one pissed-off commuter put it.

For months, Inside Croydon has been highlighting some of the less-than-optimal “improvements” in the services supposedly provided by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) under its 2020 timetable revision, which was supposed to start yesterday.

The private rail operators claim to be adding an extra 400 services across its Great Northern, Thameslink and Southern franchise as part of an overhaul which they have bigged up as the largest seen in Britain since George Stephenson tightened the last bolt on his Rocket.

But rail-user groups, such as ABC – the Association of British Commuters – have been warning that GTR has never properly staffed its drivers’ roster, and certainly has not recruited additional drivers for these extra 400 trains.

Entire routes had all their “services” cancelled yesterday, as the operator demonstrated yet again that it was unable to fulfil the train system that it had devised for itself.

Rail union the RMT is calling today “Meltdown Monday” and said it should “spell the end of the privatised chaos on Britain’s railways”. Good luck with that while Chris Grayling’s the unaccountable transport secretary.

The Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern rail operator, which serves East Croydon, South Croydon, stations in Coulsdon, Sutton and Surrey, is supposed to run services to Bedford, Luton, Peterborough, King’s Lynn, Cambridge, London King’s Cross, London Moorgate, Wimbledon and Brighton.

The service overhaul is the end-result of a £7billion investment in rail infrastructure around London Bridge Station and the upgrade of the Midlands-to-south-coast Thameslink route, which was due to be completed in 2020. After the 18-year delay, frustrated commuters whose journeys to work this morning were subject to additional disruption were wondering whether it might take a similar length of time for GTR to implement its timetable.

Notice how it is the commuters in this picture who are moving, and not the Thameslink train

The BBC is reporting that GTR has said today, “we expect some disruption to services in the initial stages… Despite some cancellations, passengers will benefit from an overall increase in capacity with immediate effect.

“We are implementing over the coming weeks the biggest timetable change in a generation to boost capacity and improve reliability, introducing 400 extra daily trains and space for 50,000 extra passengers in the peak.

“Due to the scale and complexity of the task, these changes will be made incrementally. This involves redeploying drivers and trains and changing operating practices to achieve a large increase in the number of services, carriages and station stops.”

After we highlighted how the timetable changes would actually deliver a worse service for passengers looking to travel home to Purley, for example, and that Freedom Pass-users at many stations would have to delay their journeys by almost half-an-hour because of the changes, Inside Croydon’s loyal reader has been responding to our appeals for their analysis of how the timetable changes – if they ever operate as they are supposed to – might impact their daily commute.

One reader has emailed us to say, “I am glad someone other than me is starting to see how the changes are basically cut backs. They are also irrational.

“The Selhurst to Victoria service was a key part of the turn up and go proposals for South London Metro in the late 1990s. Currently it has six trains an hour off-peak, which fits the turn up and go status.

“As from May 20, this will be cut back by one-third, to four trains per hour.

East Croydon Station, one of the busiest in the south-east, was affected by the timetable changes today

“Govia keep claiming that there will be 400 more trains a day. Has been independently audited? I can’t see where they exist. My sneaking suspicion is that there are more trains on Thameslink, but less on Southern.”

The experience of one shift worker who needs to get to his place of work early each morning underlines how the revised timetable – just as with the withdrawal of night trains from Victoria last year – has managed to remove trains from providing the service which passengers depend upon.

“I live in South Croydon and work as a postman with a 6am start at my depot in Wandsworth Road. When the night services between Brighton and London Victoria were withdrawn last year, I switched to taking the 60 bus to Streatham Common and picking up the 05.34 train (originating Selhurst) to Clapham Junction, arriving about 05.43 then another short bus journey to get to work on time.

“From this week, this train has been retimed to 05.49 at Streatham Common, not getting to Clapham Junction until after 6am. I will no longer be able to get to work by train and will have to take at least three buses and may still not arrive on time.

“Southern seem to have no regard for those with early-morning starts. The train which I used to travel on was well-used. Lots of people dash for connections at Clapham Junction or continue to Victoria.

“It is ridiculous that Croydon has no trains arriving at Victoria before 6am. All bad news for those with early starts, usually the low paid who are forced to move further out of London due to housing costs.”

  • How do the rail timetable changes affect your daily commute? What has been your experience of the rail service under the revised timetable? Email, and put “Rail timetable” in the subject box

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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15 Responses to It’s Meltdown Monday as Southern’s new train timetable bites

  1. Nick Davies says:

    Do remember that it isn’t a franchise but a management contract. DfT take the fare income, Govia operates service specified by the DafT in return for a fee. A lot of the blame for this long running fiasco should rest with DafT for any number of reasons, mainly financial, but not least for appointing a comically incompetent contractor.

  2. combyne says:

    Reblogged this on Combyne's Weblog and commented:
    Nightmare on Meltdown Monday as new timetable causes problem after problem.

    Even my twice monthly visit to Lewisham will be impacted as the direct train to Queens Road, Peckham has been removed from the timetable.

    Have to go to New Cross Gate with a change too, and may mean the 436 bus will be too full to join for the last part of the journey.

    Will know, when I try for the first time this coming Thursday (24/5).

  3. combyne says:

    not going well so far.

    Is anyone keeping a tally of cancelled services?

  4. derekthrower says:

    Look this timetable would work perfectly if it wasn’t for those damned pesky commuters, rail staff, trains and rail infastructure getting in the way !

  5. GTR admitted to a parliamentary select committee almost two years ago that they didn’t have enough drivers, and basically have never had enough since the contract was awarded back in 2014. The genuinely scandalous bit is that they’ve not really made any serious attempt to recruit he shortfall as they don’t want the expense of training drivers. For a short spell after that appearance before the select committee they made a bit of noise about recruitment, but it was largely a PR exercise, as it soon blew over, so we carry on year after year with trains cancelled due to ‘temporary’ shortage of train crew!

  6. Chris Massey says:

    While I usually enjoy your rants and caustic wit, sometimes Mr Downes you need give it a rest as far as this subject is concerned as even you must recognise that you cannot be right all of the time. The timetabling change is a massive upgrade on the rail network that needed to happen.

    Complaining won’t make this go away just accept that this is something that is needed and move with the times. Change happens some is good some is bad some will win others will lose.
    A small percentages of the commuting populace will find it an inconvenience but the majority will not.

    The current train schedules are probably similar to what was in place during the days of slam door trains, manual signal boxes or when a guard was on every train. With new rolling stock, more sophisticated electronic signals systems, electronic barriers and the like, the London commute is safer and better now than ever (despite the substantial increase in passengers!).. It is likely to improve further when the system beds down.

    Of course there will be casualties during the changes but for heaven’s sake not everyone is complaining because now their train into London will now leave at 07:40 instead of 07:43.
    Can I ask how many of the people complaining that their 05:13 (say) is no longer direct and they now need to change trains at some intermediate stop? Consider the number of people using that 05:13 train and how many people it really affects? For once why can they not consider the bigger picture and consider the majority needs rather their own? The new timetable will (I REPEAT WILL) allow for more trains and in some cases longer trains to run at the peak times to help ease the congestion we currently face during the morning and evening rush hour.

    People please stop your complaining and look at public transport objectively. There are many more people commuting to Central London now than say 20 years ago. However your buses are now much more frequent, they are more reliable, run to more accurate timetables and have bus lanes to assist. You now have a tram system to connect to Addington and Wimbledon. You have a rail network that so much better than the BR of old. Train stations are being upgraded, the rolling stock is cleaner quieter and more comfortable, you have the Oyster cards technology and I can go on … nut the problem is the volume of passengers HENCE THE NEED FOR RAIL TIMETABLE CHANGES

    So rather than complain about the timetable changes please stop and consider what is happening here. These are long overdue changes needed to make the rail network more efficient. By the nature of the beast timetable changes need to be implemented in a big bang manner – it cannot be gently phased in. Yes there will be issues as the system beds-in but just bear with the changes until this happens. So you may need to change your commute times slightly but I’m sure you know that this is for the greater good. Surely the needs of the many outweigh the demands of the few.

    • derekthrower says:

      Your claims need to be proven. The extra capacity claimed exists in the timetable only since the actual services appear to be experiencing mass cancellations. Further evidence is provided that an increase in capacity has not occurred simply because no new additional rail drivers have been recruited. You provide a huge amount of rhetoric, but no evidence of improved or increased levels of service.

      • Chris Massey says:

        You claim that I provided a huge amount of rhetoric, but no evidence of improved or increased levels of service. I’m at a bit of a loss to understand what is it that you disagree with Sir?
        Remind me again what it is you are really complaining about? The fact that the changes did not work perfectly from the first hour, that you think it will never work or that the new timetables are worse for the majority?

        Do you honestly think that was no need no change the train schedules? (If so why?)

        Are the numbers of commuters not greater than say 20 years ago with the almost identical timetables still in place?

        Should the Train operating Companies not be focusing on giving the majority of the rail users more capacity, or simply making sure that passengers on the extremities on the bell curve are pandered to?

        Has Public transport not got better in the past 20 years despite the massive increase in demand, or is this rhetoric as well?

        It is a new timetable and there WILL be teething troubles and I’m confused why you would think otherwise.

        I may have stated my case very poorly as you misunderstood my post, but simply put….
        ” just give it a little time, let the timetables settle and then see what the results are for the majority of us commuters”

        • Am sure Derek will pick you up himself.
          Let’s just say that, two years ago, GTR told a Commons Select Committee that they deliberately do not employ enough drivers to operate the service as it then was.
          And yet this new timetable is supposed to have 400 additional trains.
          It is entirely predictable.
          It is not a “rant” to report the comments of GTR as they defend the indefensible over their mismanagement of the rail service.
          It is not a “rant” to report the sincere comments of individuals who have identified how the rail service is, far from being “improved”, adversely affects their daily commute – not only before 6am, but also after 6pm, on the home-bound journey to places such as Purley. Indeed, some of these timetable changes, delivering an inferior service, are putting people’s livelihoods at risk.
          And nor is it a “rant” to point out that 1-in-5 trains today were cancelled or ddelayed significantly – according to GTR’s own figures.

        • derekthrower says:

          Endless rhetoric based on a fallacy that train timetables are based on the demands of 20 years ago. Of course yet again absolutely not one iota of evidence to back up this claim as usual. The service provided by Southern and Thameslink has been one long endless teething problem, but teething problems normally relent after a while. The experience of the operating companies in this area has been a constant consistent deterioration of services. A bungled attempt at a new timetable just reiterates they are not fit for purpose.

        • derekthrower says:

          Hi Chris
          After a second week of a continuous chaos with the commencement of this new timetable and an announcement that disruption will last till August. Would you care to update your comments now.

  7. Are there any drinking binges at a Brewery that this Government could try their hand at?
    Why are Royal Weddings all held under Tory Governments? Its always a way of deflecting from the complete cock up they are making of everything else.

  8. sed30 says:

    Reblogged this on sed30's Blog and commented:
    As expected 😢

  9. Nick Davies says:

    Where has Mr Philp got to? I thought he was able to sort these things out single-handed. Come on Chris, if the train aren’t running properly in the morning it’s all your fault!

  10. Nick Davies says:

    Well despite Mr Massey’s assurances above, the new timetable isn’t doing much bedding in. In fact the complete reverse:

    And it looks like GoDire’s PR department has abandoned ship completely for the sake of their own health:

    Perhaps Charlie Horton and friends might like to staff the Twitter desk. Chris Grayling could lend a hand too.

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