Southern plots to cut services

A few days ago, we were contacted about the Sydenham Society's discovery that rail operator Southern is planning service reductions along the Brockley line from next year.

We already know about the plan to replace the Charing X direct services with trains terminating at London Bridge from December. In addition, Sydenham Society has discovered that from May 2010 there will be an absolute reduction in services by one third along the line from Brockley to London Bridge at off-peak times and at peak time during the evening. Services will be reduced from six to four trains per hour.

Without a legitimate explanation, such losses would be unacceptable. The introduction of the East London Line doesn't require a reduction in main line services and it doesn't compensate for the loss of capacity on an already-crowded route in to London Bridge (recently identified as one of the capital's congestion hotspots). The East London Line will be a wonderful addition to Brockley's transport options - but the London Bridge route is essential.

We held off publishing the story because a meeting between residents, Council officials and representatives of Southern was planned this week, where it was hoped the facts could be established and an explanations offered. Perhaps this was just a temporary measure as a result of Thameslink works - annoying, but perhaps understandable?

Well the meeting has taken place, but Southern declined to attend, so all the attendees were able to do was confirm the reductions and speculate about the reasons for them. Here's Malcom's report, which we're very grateful for - the most likely explanation seems to be his final suggestion:

The meeting was a bit of waste of time. Despite having notice of the issue, the representative of Southern Rail did not turn up. The Council Officers basically confirmed the service reductions but said that thesewere included in the tender that Southern made and which was approved by the Department of Transport and it was not a transport operational issue that could be dealt with at the meeting I attended.

They have agreed however that it is a strategic issue it could bereferred to the Council's strategic transport committee and I have written to Councillor Heidi Alexander, who chairs that committee,accordingly.

It looks therefore that the whole thing is a deal done with central government without local residents even knowing.

The Officers tried to give us some ideas of what lead to the decision to reduce the services, but at best they were guesses as they were not partyto it and at worse don't really stack up except as excuses:

First, we were told that platform lengthening will take place on the line to allow for 10 carriage trains. This may be done some time in 2011 but Sydenham Society have been told that it is likely to be 2013 before the longer trains run. This cannot therefore be a justification forreducing the services in 2009/2010 and, indeed, less-frequent trains are hardly an improvement over more-frequent trains, particularly as they do not restore the missing capacity in full (40 carriages per hour compared to the current 48 carriages per hour).
Second, we were told that the changes might be necessary because of capacity problems at Charing Cross. However later in the meeting Southern, (who run the services through Lewisham) reported that they were increasing the number of trains they ran through. At best, we are losing services so that others gain.
Finally, we were told that some re-scheduling might be due to the works being carried out at London Bridge although this would only justify atemporary change whilst these are intended to be permanent and, in any event, we have been previously told by London Bridge station staff that the works at London Bridge were to be carried out with “minimal inconvenience” to passengers – which this wholesale reduction in services clearly is not.

An alternative - more cynical explanation - would be that this has been done because the Government wants to get as much cash from the franchise as they can and Southern would only take the obligation on. The only way that could be done was by cutting services. As local services are less profitable than long distance services, we were the ones to suffer.

It's time for the people affected along this line to take action. We need to make our voice heard.

The best course of lobbying now is two fold:

1/ directly to our MPs - there is a general election coming up which should focus their minds, after all, a few thousand votes could swing on the issue

2/ to press the Council, through our Councillors, to support our lobby of the MPs and Department of Transport. After all, they too have something to lose here.

We'll publish the relevant contact details shortly.