Our transport correspondent, JEREMY CLACKSON, on some disappointing news for communters
It could be another eight weeks, at least, before Southern and Thameslink rail services running through East Croydon and Norwood Junction return to anything even resembling a full timetable.
That’s according to the latest doom-laden update on the Southern website, which begins with the question every fare-paying passenger has been asking for the past 18 months or so: “What’s happening with the rail service?”
The answer given probably won’t provide much encouragement for anyone facing a daily trek from Croydon stattions into central London.
The latest timetable changes were implemented on February 28, “following a period of significant staff absence due to covid,” the operators claim, “and a major blockade of engineering works on the Brighton mainline between 19-27 February.”
“A major blockade” is an interesting way for privately-owned rail operators Govia to call what Network Rail described as essential engineering and signalling works.
“While the picture is improving overall and the direct impact of covid on colleagues is reducing,” the official Southern website whinged, “its legacy continues to have an impact on our business and services.”
It is towards the end of their lengthy, self-justifying notice that Southern states, “Our next timetable change will take place in mid-May, where we plan to provide a further uplift of services as far as possible given the careful balance we need to consider for the future.”
Govia and its various rail franchises are facing mounting commuter disaffection, as well as legal challenges for a series of ticketing and fares complaints, and massive, multi-million-pound penalty fines. Commuter groups are calling on the government to discontinue their operator agreements with Govia on the Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express services due to their repeat and continued under-performance.
The Southern website, meanwhile, offers up another question to which they cannot provide a satisfactory answer: “When will things return to normal?”
Because it appears that they want to continue to drive paying passengers away from the railways by continuing to offer a much-reduced service, using the excuse of a post-lockdown lack of passengers as their self-fulfilling reason.
“Following a sustained period with significantly lower passenger numbers, we are waiting to see how travel demand and patterns stabilise. This may take some months to assess,” they say, somewhat ominously.
“The railway has seen large losses in revenue over the course of the pandemic…”, say operators who are paid under a management contract with the Department for Transport and have had their costs underwritten by the tax-payer, “… and it is clear people will continue to work from home more regularly in the future.
“The simple fact is that we need to balance the choices we make going forward with what’s affordable to run once we establish what the ‘new world’ of travel looks like.
“Therefore, we will be prioritising our services in the most efficient way and adapting to what customers need for the future. This will be an ongoing process of review as part of our overall timetable planning process, which considers all areas across our network.”
What they describe as “complex work” will take “many months of detailed planning”, sounding very much like people who really shouldn’t be trusted to run a railway…
Among their excuses is “a backlog of training for drivers, meaning fewer are available than is ideal”.
The operators have been criticised for being over-cautious in reinstating services, as they seek to avoid operator fines for late-cancelled services.
They say that by the simple method of providing longer trains, under their latest timetable they are providing 12,000 more seats than in January – a 12per cent increase across the network.
And they say, “We want to thank customers for their patience and understanding throughout this period.” Which is nice.
Read more: Commuters start legal case to re-nationalise Southern Rail
Read more: Rail operator Govia faces landmark £73m tribunal challenge
Read more: Fraud squad sent in over £25m Southeastern ‘breach of faith’
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