Thameslink can’t blame covid for service cuts, says Pidgeon

GTR is making swingeing cuts to services across south London

Swingeing cuts to rail services by Govia Thameslink Railway have caused one London Assembly Member to declare that she is “totally unsatisfied with the timetable GTR are providing”.

Among the worst-affected are those who used to travel from Purley and Coulsdon on the Tattenham Corner branch line service, which has been axed, replaced with a half-hourly “shuttle”.

Changes were introduced on five routes with barely a week’s notice at the end of last month.

According to Paul Codd, a “senior stakeholder manager” at GTR, the changes were “in response to the effects of coronavirus”.

The timetable changes began on July 26 – a week after the government removed most of the precautionary measures in place for the pandemic, and when tens of thousands of commuters from Croydon, Surrey and south London began to make plans for a gradual return to their offices in central London.

The routes affected by the service reductions are (with the rail operators’ explanations included):

Thameslink: Bedford – Gatwick Airport – 2 train per hour service removed
“The Thameslink service group between Bedford and Gatwick Airport will not operate. North of St Pancras International, alternative Thameslink and East Midlands Railway services are available. South of London Bridge, alternative Thameslink and Southern services are available.

“The Horsham to Peterborough Thameslink service group will make additional stops on an hourly basis at Earlswood and Salfords stations to provide an alternative service.”

Thameslink: St Albans – Sutton – 4 trains per hour service reduced to 2 trains per hour
“There are currently four trains per hour between St Albans City and Sutton. In the Sutton direction, after Streatham, two trains per hour travel to Sutton via Wimbledon and two travel via Hackbridge. From 26 July 2021, one train per hour will travel via Wimbledon and one train per hour will travel via Hackbridge to create a two trains per hour service in the Streatham to St Albans City section.”

Southern Metro: Milton Keynes – Clapham Junction – Service group mostly suspended.
“On the West London Line, Southern will operate two services per day in each direction:
05.27 Balham to Milton Keynes Central
07.01 Milton Keynes Central to Selhurst
17.16 Selhurst to Milton Keynes Central
19.16 Milton Keynes Central to Selhurst
“London Overground trains will continue to serve stations between Shepherds Bush and Clapham Junction, and London North Western Railway and Avanti West Coast services will continue to run on the West Coast Mainline.

Southern Metro: Beckenham Junction – London Bridge – Service group suspended.
“Southern services will not run on this route. There will be no Southern service at Beckenham Junction or Birkbeck. Customers at these two stations will need to use Southeastern services (Beckenham Junction) or Tramlink (Birkbeck).

Southern Metro: London Bridge – Tattenham Corner / Caterham – Service group suspended, shuttle service introduced.
“Direct services will not run on this route. A shuttle service will run between Caterham and Purley and Tattenham Corner and Purley at half-hourly frequency in busy periods and hourly throughout the day. Alternative services will call at Purley, Purley Oaks and South Croydon to provide as many journey options as possible.”

According to Govia, “This timetable will be in place until further notice. It will be reviewed weekly, but further reductions may be required in the future affecting more routes.” Them’s our italics.

“We are likely to continue to need to make additional changes on the day of service and while there is no planned change, this will also affect weekend services. We are recommending that customers check their journeys before travelling.”

Even Govia’s much-reduced service is proving unreliable

Indeed, despite the wide-ranging service cuts, there’s been no noticeable improvement in the reliability of the other services which Thameslink and Southern are supposed to be providing, leaving some passengers stranded for at least an hour waiting for trains that may – or may not – be running.

Caroline Pidgeon, the leader of the Liberal Democrats at the London Assembly, has written a scathing letter to Govia, in which she said, “In addition to the savage cuts in services there are also some very large and infrequent gaps in services, including some people now waiting for 45 minutes for some train services…

“On Thameslink, the situation has left 45-minute gaps in what is supposed to be a 15-minute service, leading to overcrowding at a time when it is important for people to still be keeping a distance.”

And Pidgeon added, “While appreciating the challenges of train drivers having to isolate, it does seem that GTR has reduced services far more than any other train operating company.”

Caroline Pidgeon: critical of Govia Thameslink’s south London rail services

Pidgeon points out that Govia was short-staffed even before the covid-19 lockdown began. “I would suggest your long-standing shortage of train drivers and underlying capacity has exposed GTR to the problems you now face and the impact of covid should not be entirely blamed on the much-reduced train service you are currently providing for train passengers.”

With schools and colleges due to be starting their new term in just three weeks’ time, in her letter this week, Pidgeon demanded “a full update” on the likely timetable of services being provided from September 1.

“I remain totally unsatisfied with the timetable GTR are providing, and in particular how it is impacting on specific communities in London,” Pidgeon wrote.

“People who are starting to return to regular working at offices in central London, and the many other users of your train services, expect a far better train timetable than is currently being provided. At a time when we are also seeking to encourage people to return to train travel, it is most unhelpful that people are immediately facing crowded trains.”

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12 Responses to Thameslink can’t blame covid for service cuts, says Pidgeon

  1. Ian Kierans says:

    About time that Govia’s funding is also cut in line with service provision and the regulator starts to actually regulate. Perhaps with about as much notice as given to customers – see how that affects the business modelling.

  2. Grace Onions says:

    This is crazy. In the glaring light of the climate and ecological emergency (as declared by government) and the now undeniable fact that the use of fossil fuels and human activity are making it considerably worse (recent IPCC report), public transport such as train services should be getting much more support to add MORE services and MORE local rail lines to take traffic off the roads.

    • Eve Tullett says:

      Completely agree. I started to get the train to and from Croydon regularly in the pandemic as I thought it would be a better alternative to driving, but these cuts mean there is one train an hour from my station if I’m lucky so now I’m back to using my car as I can’t get to and from work reliably or on time by train. I feel for people who have no other option and are paying through the nose for this “service”.

  3. Chris Flynn says:

    Good on Ms Pidgeon. I travelled from Purley last week – I used to enjoy the Caterham service where I could get a seat and table, but last week I ended up standing much of the way on the Thameslink. Spot on about the irony of having people closer to together at this time. Also, when I’m thinking about how many days I want to to work in the office vs home, it’ll be interesting to see whether GTR put themselves into a positive or negative spiral…

  4. combyne says:

    Well the Ping change announced today will remove Covid as an excuse, since automatic isolation has been removed if double jabbed.

    Now peeps have to get a test, but can continue working in the meantime.

    GTR need to immediately reinstate all trains unless drivers are ill or genuinely isolating?

  5. Peter Gillman says:

    GTR was a poor company at the best of times. These cuts make things worse, with many very long gaps between trains. The govt will stand idly by and allow its parent company, Go-Ahead, to continue creaming it: in March it declared an operating profit of £56.1m, only marginally down on the previous year’s £60m, despite its claims that Covid is hitting its revenues. Still it all fits with the govt plan to level down (yes, the very opposite of what it claims.)

    • miapawz says:

      You rightly point out that GTR relied on overtime and “goodwill” to run an already threadbear timetable. One wonders if they will ever restore any full service. It lacked drivers before and has clearly been saving cash by avoiding recruiting any more. Perhaps thats why there are non many trains left on the Caterham line, no MIlton keynes trains and no Birbeck trains. But never mind the passengers, eh? They just want to go to work.

  6. Dave Russell says:

    Journey Planner shows no trains at all serving Birkbeck, which effectively means the Station is closed (the adjacent tram stop is irrelevant as far as the Station closure procedure is concerned).
    Is it no longer necessary to apply for a formal closure, or to provide, what has become known as, a Parliamentary service.

  7. miapawz says:

    Thank you IC for reporting this. We poor mugs on the Caterham line have had the direct service to Victoria totally cut since March 2020. For some reason Sutton, East Grinstead, Crawley, Horsham and other places can still go to Victoria without waiting for 20 minutes at East Croydon but not Caterham or Tattenham corner line residents. I was told that “we didn’t complain enough”. We jolly well did. We now have to suffer shuttle services as you report, time table issues such as waiting 25 minutes to an hour for a Caterham train, and finding that none of the Horsham or Reigate trains leaving Victoria in Peak hours stop at Purley (because, reasons). Its like they hate us. I moved to the CR8 postcode because it had both London Bridge and Vic trains in 2016 but am now wondering what to do. A journey that took 36 minutes now takes an hour and ten. Or more.

    • Lewis White says:

      In the Summer, changing trains and the un-replaceable hours of life wasted is bad enough, but in Winter, waiting for long periods like this — half and hour- on wet, windy, cold/freezing and overcrowded platforms to catch an already overcrowded-to-bursting point train coming down the line, for commuters from Caterham and Tattenham is the biggest source of stress, health risk, and general pissed-offed, get me outta here feelings for commuters.

      There should be direct trains to Victoria and London Bridge. Caterham is a big town.

      The country depends on Commuters. They should be treated properly. The local MP’s should be forced to do a dummy run along with a represetative group of (all ages and disabilities) of local commuters for a week, to “stress test” all timetable changes.

  8. Pingback: London’s weekly railway news

  9. Greg Milton says:

    I think covid is, without a doubt, to blame in this situation. I know people blame the cold for too many things, but blaming, in this case, is indeed justified.

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