Conservative ministers might expect us to return to work ‘as normal’, but they’re doing less-than-nothing to provide a transport service at pre-pandemic levels, reports JEREMY CLACKSON, transport correspondent
New rail timetables are to be implemented from Monday, with Croydon, Purley and Coulsdon commuters using Southern and Thameslink facing yet more misery, with reduced frequency of services and shorter trains.
And all because of the latest funding formula agreed by the Conservative government.
Local passenger groups are also predicting a round of booking office closures and a reduction of operating hours at stations in the Croydon and Surrey commuter belt, as operators Govia Thameslink Railway seek to make cuts in line with the “National Rail Contract” (NRC) that they were awarded by the Department for Transport in March.
Under the deal, Govia, the country’s largest rail operator, will receive up to £31.7million per year to run the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern rail services. The NRC, which is due to run until “at least” April 1, 2025, is a government interim arrangement, part of its covid recovery package. But it provides the operators with a smaller budget for operating services in London and the south-east than was used in 2018.
“With their plans for improving the punctuality, reliability and accessibility of their services through close collaboration with Network Rail, we are proud to partner with GTR to create a truly passenger-focused service,” the Minister for Rail, Wendy Morton, lied when announcing the handing of the contract to Govia.
Morton and DfT awarded Govia the contract despite ample evidence of major fraud, including a £81million fine from the government, over ticket pricing on some of the commuter services it operates around London, in addition to the countless complaints over the poor services provided.
Under the contract, the operator gets a fixed sum to run the network. “GTR will earn a fixed management fee of £8.8million per annum (equivalent to a margin of 0.5per cent of GTR’s cost base) to deliver the contract, with an additional performance fee of up to £22.9million per annum (equivalent to an additional 1.35per cent margin),” according to a press statement issued by the operator.
All fares and revenue are now the government’s responsibility, unlike a franchise where the fare risk was the responsibility of the operator. Govia cannot lose.
But what the government is paying is insufficient to run services even to the levels of the 2018 timetable. So Govia have to make savings. And its the passengers who suffer.
The easiest way to save money is to reduce the staff you need and the rolling stock you use. Reducing services requires fewer drivers, and withdrawing the 40-year-old 455 trains reduces leasing costs to the rolling stock companies.
The withdrawal of the 455s will mean that some Metro services are reduced from eight-carriage trains to five carriages. Which could make some commutes uncomfortably cosy…
Rail passenger numbers are still down after the covid lockdowns, with many commuters having established new working patterns, in particular working from home. This means that there many fewer long-distance season ticket-holders providing their money up-front. So there has to be some reductions in services to reflect this lower demand.
This will hit Metro services particularly hard, as they suffer some of the worst service reductions. Some interpret this as a deliberate, politically-motivated policy to hit London, and the Labour Mayor of London.
As one passenger committee member told Inside Croydon, “For Metro services to be successful they have to have a minimum of four trains per hour, preferably six. But under this new timetable, a lot of the Metro services will be cut to two trains per hour. Or suspended altogether.”
This is what the new timetable means for local services in south London and nearby suburbs:
- The Victoria to London Bridge service via Crystal Palace is suspended. This reduces the service to Victoria and London Bridge from Crystal Palace from 4 trains per hour to 2tph.
- The service from Selhurst, Thornton Heath, Norbury and Streatham Common to Victoria is halved, from 4tph to 2tph.
- The service from West Croydon to Victoria is reduced from 6tph to 4tph.
- The service from West Croydon to Sutton is reduced from 6tph to 4tph.
- The all-stations service from London Bridge to Coulsdon Town is shortened back to East Croydon, reducing the service from South Croydon to Coulsdon Town from 4tph to 2.
- The West London Line which is cut back from Milton Keynes to start from Watford and cut back at the southern end from East Croydon to Clapham Junction (except on Saturdays), removing the service between East Croydon and Balham completely during the week.
In the outer suburbs:
- The East Grinstead Line for Sanderstead, Riddlesdown and Upper Warlingham will have the peak Thameslink services reduced from 6tph to 1tph in each direction. In addition, its off-peak service will be reduced from 2tph to 1tph.
- The Caterham and Tattenham Corner lines will no longer have the additional Victoria peak services. This reduces the peak service from Victoria to Purley from 4tph to 2tph.
Coulsdon resident Charles King of the East Surrey Transport Committee told Inside Croydon, “We understand that with reduced number of passengers there has to some reductions and changes to services.
“However, to make services attractive, especially in the off-peak for leisure and casual passengers, they need to be at reasonable frequencies and on Metro services, this needs to a be a minimum of four trains per hour and in the outer suburbs two trains per hour.”
King says that the East Surrey Transport Committee will be campaigning for the restoration of :
- Two trains per hour in the off-peak on the East Grinstead Line.
- Restoring Caterham and Tattenham Corner peak service to Victoria.
- Restoration of West London Line services from Watford back to East Croydon every day and increased to two trains per hour in the off-peak.
- Restoration of 4tph from Selhurst to Victoria.
- Additional stops at Norwood Junction on Caterham and Tattenham Corner trains to London Bridge, for improved interchange with the London Overground.
It’s not all doom and gloom, says King.
“On a positive note, all Metro services will have toilets from Monday.”
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