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.”
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.”
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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