Southern service cuts - Department for Transport responds

BC regular Monkeyboy wrote to the Department for Transport, demanding answers, damnit, concerning the proposed reduction in Southern services to London Bridge, reported here.

Today, he received a response, which attributes responsibility for these changes to TfL, rather than Southern and says that "it has simply not been possible to fit the additional 8 trains per hour that London Overground will be operating into the existing timetable without changes to Southern services."

The letter points out that there will be a dramatic increase in train services on the line and that there are reasons to suppose that overcrowding in the evening may not be as bad as initially feared (we will not have to share trains with long-distance commuters any more). Nonetheless, the plans mean a reduction in London Bridge services, meaning longer waits between trains or choosing to re-route via the East London Line, replacing a cheaper rail ticket, with a more expensive tube journey. It also means that the initial promises that the ELL would not lead to a reduction in London Bridge services have been broken.

Here are the salient parts of the letter:

As part of the introduction of High Speed Services on the Southeastern network in December 2009, a full recast of the Southeastern timetable is being carried out. As part of this new timetable Southeastern is increasing frequencies on some metro routes in South East London and additional services will be stopping at London Bridge. For example, off peak frequencies on the Bexleyheath route are being increased by 2 trains per hour to Charing Cross.

Alongside this it has not proved possible to link any available paths through London Bridge with the available paths south of New Cross Gate, which are limited by the new East London Line services (that will begin operation next year).

Given the capacity limitations in the congested London Bridge area and the impacts of the new East London Line services it has not been possible for the industry to derive a timetable that allows the Southern services to continue to operate to Charing Cross from the Reigate corridor during the day or from the Sydenham corridor during the evening.

The Department has stated that if the train operators – Southern, Southeastern, First Capital Connect and London Overground - can identify a timetable solution that allows Southern to operate services through the high level platforms at London Bridge we would not stand in their way of delivering this.

The off peak train services frequencies from Brockley double in May 2010 compared to December 2009 with a train operating every 5 minutes. In the peak 3 hours services increase by nearly 150%, and by over 200% in the peak hour. These changes will increase the accessibility of this area of South East London and act as a driver for significant regeneration as you highlight in your letter.

These services changes have not been driven by train operator Southern – and they cannot be described as cherry picking services. The changes have been driven particularly by Transport for London’s investment in the East London Line Extension, and by TfL’s specification for services on this route (TfL is the specification body for London Overground services).

The timetable that results from TfL’s specification has been developed in cross industry discussions involving operators, Network Rail, and ORR to derive the optimum timetable for both East London Line and Southern services.

In the evening peak service frequencies from London Bridge will reduce to 4 trains per hour (from 6 today) as it has not been possible to match the paths available south of New Cross Gate (given the additional 8 East London Line services) with those available from London Bridge.

However these services will now be purely local services terminating at West Croydon and will thus have lower passenger levels from London Bridge, because the services to Sutton, Epsom and Guildford that currently call at the local stations will now use the fast lines due to the lack of available paths (because of the East London Line additional services), so that longer distance passengers will no longer congest the local trains.

In preparation for the extended ELL services, management of stations on the line transferred to London Overground on September 20th 2009 and TfL have already started a programme of station investments on the route, such as the installation of ticket gates with further investments due in the coming months.