Insiders suspect that poor driver recruitment and a desire to avoid fines are behind the latest service cancellations.
PLUS: Full details of the Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express cancelled services
Commuters, shoppers and tourists wanting to travel into central London via Victoria could have a very long wait, after rail operator Govia Thameslink Railway announced the cancellation of hundreds of services daily – and for an indefinite period.
Services into Victoria from stations in Croydon and across southern England were stopped on Christmas Eve, apparently for planned engineering and signalling work.
Services were due to return to a covid-sort-of-normal today, the first working day after all the Christmas period bank holidays, at the start of the week when schools are set to re-open.
Last week, on New Year’s Eve, Govia issued an update on their closures, stating that Victoria would remain closed for a further week, until January 10, with service reductions due to staff either catching covid or having to self-isolate because of the virus.
But the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the railway companies, says that fewer than 1-in-10 workers are off work due to the pandemic.
Now, Govia has announced a much wider-ranging set of service cancellations, stating that its much-reduced Christmas timetable that was in operation across its networks last week “will continue on weekdays from January 4, 2022, until further notice“. Those are our italics.
Rail service watchers and commuter groups are increasingly suspicious about Govia’s service reductions, providing far fewer trains than they have contracted to provide under the terms of their management agreement with the government for Southern, Thameslink, the Gatwick Express and the Great Northern line.
The services being provided over most of 2021 were far below the numbers of trains available before March 2020, when the first covid lockdown was implemented. The company had long been criticised, even before the pandemic, for its poor management of staffing levels and staff recruitment.
This latest service reduction could be less to do with post-covid passenger numbers or staff sickness, and more to do with Govia avoiding fines for late or cancelled services.
“Govia really have a long record of claiming they need to dramatically reduce services – yet continue to deny any underlying driver shortages,” one insider said today.
“Another factor, although it is a bit difficult to prove, is that they are probably driven by some perverse incentives in the franchising system, where it is easier to give advance notice of cancelling a service than running a reduced timetable with the occasional last-minute cancellation, for which they could be fined.”
In their latest service update, Govia said that the service reductions are, “in response to a significant reduction in traincrew, service planning, controllers and other critical staff availability, as the rise in coronavirus cases sees more staff needing to isolate”.
Their statement says, “We understand how disappointing this news is, and our colleagues are working to find the best possible solution.
“By reducing the size of the planned service in proportion to the number of staff expected to be available, we reduce unexpected cancellations, which we know are frustrating to our customers, and provide greater certainty over which trains will and will not run so customers can plan their journeys.”
Inside Croydon asked Govia to specify how many fewer trains it is operating today, compared to an equivalent date in January 2020, before the first covid lockdown. No one from Govia’s extensive press “team” had responded by the time of publication.
Govia is the country’s largest train operator.
A spokeswoman for GTR told the BBC today that with more people asked to work from home, it meant the firm could be “focused on providing a service that passengers can rely on if they need to travel”.
Passengers have been advised to refer to the operator’s websites for the latest information about services operating from today until January 7. Information for trains running from January 10 would be added later in the week, Govia said.
A summary of the main changes for this week (Jan 4-Jan 7), as provided by Govia, is below.
From Monday January 10, “services will start to be reintroduced to London Victoria”, the company says, without yet providing any specific timetable information.
No services to or from London Victoria.
There will be no Southern or Gatwick Express services at London Victoria, Battersea Park, Clapham Junction or Wandsworth Common.
Southern services on the following routes will be diverted north of East Croydon to London Bridge:
Ore – Hastings – Eastbourne – London
Littlehampton – Hove – London
Southampton/Portsmouth Harbour/Bognor Regis – Horsham – London
East Grinstead – London
Horsham – Dorking – Epsom – London
In addition, Southern Metro services via Streatham Common/Streatham Hill that normally run to/from London Victoria will terminate at/start from Balham. There will be no direct service between Mitcham Junction and Balham.
Brighton to London Victoria Gatwick Express services will be suspended in the week of January 4 2022.
Reigate to London Victoria services will remain on diversion to form an hourly service between Reigate and Tonbridge.
London Bridge to London Victoria: This service is suspended.
Epsom to London Bridge via Carshalton Beeches: This service is suspended.
Milton Keynes Central to Clapham Junction: This service is suspended.
London Bridge to East Croydon via New Cross Gate, Brockley, Honor Oak Park, Forest Hill, Sydenham, Penge West and Norwood Junction: This service is suspended. Alternative Southern services will call at New Cross Gate. For travel between London Bridge and Brockley, Honor Oak Park, Forest Hill, Sydenham or Penge West, customers are to use London Overground, changing trains at New Cross Gate or Norwood Junction.
Redhill to Tonbridge: services will run Reigate to Tonbridge via Redhill on an hourly basis.
Caterham/Tattenham Corner to London Bridge: services via Tulse Hill will run and will split and join with another train at Purley to provide a service to Tattenham Corner on a half-hourly basis.
Uckfield to London Bridge: services will run between Uckfield and East Croydon only every hour.
Beckenham Junction to London Bridge via Tulse Hill: Two trains per hour will run on this route.
Welwyn Garden City/Stevenage to Moorgate: Two trains per hour will run on each branch, combining to provide up to four trains per hour between Moorgate and Alexandra Palace.
Cambridge to London King’s Cross: stopping service via Potters Bar. Two trains per hour will run in the Royston to London King’s Cross section of this route. One train per hour will continue between Royston and Cambridge serving Meldreth, Shepreth and Foxton.
Orpington to Luton: peak only services between Orpington and Luton via Catford will not run.
Sutton to St Albans/Luton: Four trains per hour will run between Sutton and London Blackfriars via Tulse Hill. Two trains per hour will continue to Luton via St Pancras International.
Luton to Rainham: services will run in the Dartford to Rainham section of the route only.
For daily updates on what trains are expected to be running, check with www.nationalrail.co.uk
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