southeastern-train

As many will now know, extensive and much-needed work to rebuild London Bridge station is to cause extensive changes to rail services across south east London from August. The first stage of work last year caused a big drop in peak time capacity on the Greenwich line. Further changes will see even bigger cuts. Unfortunately a lack of mitigating work (providing more carriages, inadequate stations etc) will cause further hardship.

The next stage of work kicks off at the end of August. Here’s what we will see:

  • During the period from 5-7pm in the evening rush hour, current  service levels of 13 trains from London Cannon Street to Greenwich reduces to 8 trains. That’s a 38% cut in trains.
  • Just 1 of the remaining 8 trains on the line from Cannon Street skips Woolwich Dockyard station, reducing the ability to provide 12 carriages on remaining trains to mitigate the cuts. Woolwich Dockyard has short platforms. With most current trains in the evening peak already at maximum lengths, the scope to make up for the cuts is very limited.
  • The cuts for Deptford, Maze Hill and Westcombe Park stations see 11 trains down to 8 (27%) from 5-7pm as two out of 13 currently run fast through those stations.

This shows all departures from Cannon Street on the Greenwich line from 5-7pm:

trains

It clearly shows the reduction in trains to Deptford (passenger numbers up 6% last year), Greenwich (up 5%), Maze Hill (up 6%) and Westcombe Park (up 6%) and the long gaps that will exist. Deptford has seen large growth over the past decade with passenger numbers quadrupling from 311k in 2004/5 to 1.24 million in 2014/15.

There’s a 22 minute gap from 17:28 to 17:50 from Cannon Street, then a 24 minute gap until 18:14. And that train in between, which is likely to be extremely busy, cannot be 12 carriages long as it stops at Woolwich Dockyard.

When looking at journey planners the changes initially doesn’t look this bad, but that’s because they also shows trains departing from London terminals heading out onto other lines that loop back onto the Greenwich line after they reach the outer extremities of London. In reality, these are no good for commuters.

It’s of course essential that the work at London Bridge is carried out and is much needed, but to not ensure extensive 12-car running to compensate for service cuts reveals a failure of planning, mainly from the Department for Transport and Network Rail. Southeastern are at their mercy.

It all comes back to long standing problems, and not rebuilding or moving Woolwich Dockyard station is one of the main ones. It compromises services across not only the Greenwich line, but all other Metro lines as trains loop around near Dartford from one line to another, or head to London terminals via Greenwich, then head out to Hayes or the Bexleyheath line etc.

It goes without saying that the area from Deptford to Westcombe Park seeing big cuts are also seeing large increases in population and many new housing developments.

Other options for travel aren’t too promising. Sending people onto other lines to then change onto the DLR at Lewisham will see them using trains already at capacity. Lewisham itself is seeing rapid growth. Incidentally, the 410 bed student block by the station will open in September and the adjacent housing block named Flora Villas is now rising.

13-storey Flora Villas
13-storey Flora Villas

The DLR itself is seeing very fast growth (8% a year) and its ability to take many more passengers is limited. Buses from central London are hopeless. Even from Deptford it’s an extremely slow and unreliable journey. 10 minutes to Cannon Street if you’re lucky or 90+ minutes by bus.

And whatever happened to that ‘imminent’ announcement of more trains for the area? The rail minister Claire Perry stated back in January an announcement would happen within a couple or months. Six months later and silence.

I don’t want to come across as someone complaining about the London Bridge project. It’s badly needed. The issue is how plans were drawn up to cope during the work, or not as it seems. There have been few additional trains for south east London and Kent’s Metro over the past 10 years, despite large growth, which has hampered the area and passengers.

Even if more do now appear, other work such as train stabling facilities which are needed alongside appear to be years behind. Simply put, provision for large population increases, plus working and leisure changes, are years behind as a succession of Governments and Ministers failed to adequately plan.

To those living further along the line past Charlton, there will be three trains from Charing Cross an hour which lessens the strain there. But those living from Deptford to Westcombe Park will have a rough time.

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