Following many months of train service delays and cancellations, a group of 58 Conservative councillors from the boroughs of Croydon, Tandridge, Reigate and Banstead have united to write to the CEO of Govia Thameslink Railway.
I was proud to be a signatory to this joint-effort. For far too long residents in our areas have been forced to tolerate endless disruptions to their work and personal lives. We all appreciate the need for engineering works to maintain the service, but there is a well-founded perception that the detrimental impact on our communities is not given enough consideration when these are scheduled. That has to change.
Chief Executive Officer
Govia Thameslink Railway
Dear Mr Verwer,
We are writing to you to express concerns about far too regular reductions in Southern Rail services to our communities.
We are a group of councillors and candidates that straddle the southern border of London, representing wards in the Local Authority areas of Croydon, Reigate & Banstead, Tandridge and Sutton. We work together on issues that cross the border, affecting local people from our respective areas.
Many of our residents are understandably upset at the recent reduction in service in timetables. These service cuts have led to overcrowding on trains to our communities and disruption at East Croydon station with commuters often forced to run between platforms to get their desired train.
We are aware that the service is beginning to improve at the end of February, but wanted to illustrate clearly what we and our residents have been experiencing on a frequent basis.
Residents using Coulsdon South station have had the service reduced from four trains an hour to London to two an hour which is unacceptable considering that the service to nearby Coulsdon Town has also been reduced. Journey times for Coulsdon residents travelling to London Victoria have increased significantly considering a change is now required at East Croydon to get a Victoria service. This impacts thousands of residents and stations all up the line including Purley, Purley Oaks, Sanderstead, Riddlesdown and beyond.
Reigate and Banstead Residents
Residents living on the Reigate to London Victoria line have to change twice from Reigate at Redhill then East Croydon and once at East Croydon if going from Redhill or Merstham. There have been no direct trains at all going to Victoria and only two trains an hour. In addition Horley residents have been experiencing only two trains per hour in the morning and again, no direct trains to London Victoria. This is a below par service at a time when we want to facilitate as many people back into pre-pandemic life as possible.
Residents living on the Caterham and Tattenham Corner branches have had to manage with a reduced service where if they wish to get to London Bridge faster, they have to change at East Croydon. We think that this is unacceptable as residents who work in London face a significantly longer journey to work.
Commuters on the East Grinstead branch had four trains an hour to London before the pandemic with a Thameslink service and a Southern service to Victoria. This has been reduced to two an hour to London Bridge with residents needing to get to Victoria having to change at East Croydon. There is also no train on the East Grinstead Line that arrives in London before 07:04 which is too late for many early morning commuters.
Given the added issue that the Northern Line has been closed from London Bridge to enable the upgrade of Bank station, we strongly believe that the current service frequency is not fit for purpose.
As the vast majority of covid restrictions have now been repealed by the government, we welcome the steps you have taken to improve the services to our communities - but this is an issue far more common that those recent disruptions caused by the pandemic.
Time after time, our residents feel that they are left high and dry by Southern. Service cancellations are made far too frequently, often at short notice, with seemingly no consideration of the impact this has on families up and down the line. Our residents are perpetually exasperated by the constant chopping and changing of services and routes, and the disruption it causes to their journeys.
Going forward we all very much urge you and your organisation to be more cognisant of the often detrimental impact Southern are having to our combined communities.
Croydon Borough Council
- Cllr Jason Perry - South Croydon and candidate for Mayor of Croydon
- Cllr Mario Creatura - Coulsdon Town
- Cllr Ian Parker - Coulsdon Town
- Luke Shortland - Coulsdon Town candidate
- Cllr Margaret Bird - Old Coulsdon
- Nikhil Sherine Thampi - Old Coulsdon candidate
- Cllr Yvette Hopley - Sanderstead
- Cllr Lynne Hale - Sanderstead
- Cllr Helen Redfern - Sanderstead candidate
- Cllr Stuart Millson - Selsdon Vale and Forestdale
- Cllr Andy Stranack - Selsdon Vale and Forestdale
- Cllr Badsha Quadir - Selsdon Vale and Forestdale candidate
Reigate and Banstead Borough Council
- Cllr Mark Brunt - The Leader of RBBC - Hooley, Merstham and Netherne
- Cllr Frank Kelly - Hooley, Merstham and Netherne
- Cllr Mus Tary - Hooley, Merstham and Netherne
- Cllr Tim Archer - Chipstead, Kingswood and Woodmansterne
- Cllr Caroline Neame - Chipstead, Kingswood and Woodmansterne
- Cllr Simon Parnall - Chipstead, Kingswood and Woodmansterne
- Cllr Eddy Humphreys - Banstead Village
- Cllr Nadean Moses - Banstead Village
- Cllr Jerry Hudson - Horley Central and South
- Cllr Andy Lynch - Horley Central and South
- Cllr Christian Stevens - Horley Central and South
- Cllr James Baker - Horley East and Salfords
- Cllr Andrew King - Horley East and Salfords
- Cllr Tony Schofield - Horley East and Salfords
- Cllr Richard Biggs - Horley West and Sidlow
- Cllr Giorgio Buttironi - Horley West and Sidlow
- Cllr Alex Horwood - Horley West and Sidlow
- Cllr Rod Ashford - Lower Kingswood, Tadworth and Walton
- Cllr Zelanie Cooper - Lower Kingswood, Tadworth and Walton
- Cllr Rachel Turner - Lower Kingswood, Tadworth and Walton
- Cllr Natalie Bramhall - Redhill West and Wray Common
- Cllr Rich Michalowski - Redhill West and Wray Common
- Cllr Kanika Sachdeva - Redhill West and Wray Common
- Cllr Rosemary Absalom - Reigate
- Cllr Michael Blacker - Reigate
- Cllr James King - South Park and Woodhatch
- Cllr Victor Lewanski - South Park and Woodhatch
Tandridge District Council
- Cllr Gill Black - Bletchingley & Nutfield
- Cllr Robin Bloore - Warlingham West
- Cllr Beverley Connolly - Harestone
- Cllr Michael Cooper - Harestone
- Cllr Geoff Duck - Queens Park
- Cllr Tony Elias - Bletchingley & Nutfield
- Cllr Phil Flower - Chaldon
- Cllr Matthew Groves - Queens Park
- Cllr Liam Hammond - Bletchingley & Nutfield
- Cllr Carole North - Woldingham
- Cllr Taylor O’Driscoll - Westway
- Cllr Keith Prew - Warlingham West
- Cllr Mark Ridge - Lingfield & Crowhurst
- Cllr Lesley Steeds - Dormansland & Felcourt
Surrey County Council
- Cllr Becky Rush - Warlingham
- Cllr Lesley Steeds - Lingfield
- Cllr Jeremy Webster - Caterham Hill
- Cllr Frank Kelly - Merstham & Banstead South
- Cllr Luke Bennett - Banstead, Woodmansterne & Chipstead
UPDATE 16TH FEBRUARY: REPLY FROM GTR
Thank you for contacting us – Patrick has read your letter and asked that I respond on his behalf.
Firstly, we would like to apologise for the inconvenience facing residents across your areas for the train service provision currently. We know journeys are much more difficult and are very sorry for the impact this is having.
As some background, in the lead-up to 4th January when we planned to step up our timetable, we faced a high number of driver unavailability due to the Omicron wave. For our drivers, we had 21% unavailability which is the highest we have seen throughout the pandemic. This surpassed the previous 20% unavailability we saw at the height of the ‘pingdemic’ in July. With limited time available, we needed an existing train plan that produced as many passenger services as possible, at a time when fewer staff were available. As a result, we made the difficult decision to continue the service that had run during the Christmas period - this would deliver passenger capacity and more school trains than the alternatives. It had however, been planned around the closure of London Victoria for engineering work.
Other options included running a Sunday service or attempting to run the January step up timetable. The Sunday service base timetable has later start times and we felt would significantly impact local schools and people getting to work. The January step up timetable, would have been unmanageable for our control team. For some further context, as a contingency, our Control team can manage up to 200 cancellations a day, if we had stepped up the timetable we would have been looking at around 600 cancellations. This not only frustrates customers when scheduled services are cancelled but can also mean trains become stuck in the network, thus having a wider knock on impact to services that could otherwise run. It was a difficult decision to make but we felt the engineering timetable we ran over Christmas could provide those early morning services whilst also ensuring the network operations could run.
The overall picture on driver availability is now improving (presently 17%) but whilst the direct impact of Covid on colleagues is reducing, its legacy continues to have an impact on our businesses and services. One example is a backlog of training for drivers, meaning fewer are available than is ideal. For a long period during the pandemic, new drivers and those undergoing their standard route refresher training could not train with another person in the confined space of a train cab. This backlog is clearing but without up-to-date training, it means fewer drivers are available overall.
Nevertheless the intention was always for this timetable to be temporary and from 19th February we will be operating the planned engineering timetable to accommodate the upgrade to the Brighton Mainline, and following this introducing a new long term timetable to run from 28th February through to May.
From Monday 28th February direct services to London Victoria will be restored meaning customers will no longer have to change at East Croydon for onward travel to Victoria. Services will also start earlier across the network. I’ve included a briefing below which outlines all the services returning by area which we hope will provide some reassurance to residents that journeys will be less challenging from 28th February. However, we have taken a prudent approach to adding services in so will be returning to a similar service level offered in Autumn 2021, with the intention to add more services again in May 2022.
Once again we apologise for the inconvenience faced by customers. Please let me know if you need any further information or anything clarifying from the briefing below.
Southern train services will return to a service level similar to Autumn 2021, this will reintroduce more direct services to London Victoria and earlier starts and later finishes across the network. However, to ensure that services are as reliable as possible, some routes will see a reduction in frequency, primarily towards the middle of the weekday and evening.
The following routes will now run to London Victoria rather than London Bridge:
- East Grinstead
- Hastings / Ore / Eastbourne via Lewes
- Littlehampton via Hove
- Horsham via Dorking / Epsom via Hackbridge
- Southampton / Portsmouth Harbour / Portsmouth & Southsea / Bognor Regis via Horsham
In addition, the following Metro routes will return to London Victoria, rather than terminating at Balham:
- Sutton / Epsom Downs via West Croydon and Streatham Common
- West Croydon via Crystal Palace
Brighton to London Victoria
Gatwick Express trains and crew will run a Southern service between Brighton and London Victoria calling at Haywards Heath and East Croydon. On weekdays during busy times, services will make additional stops at Preston Park, Hassocks and Burgess Hill.
Redhill to Tonbridge
Two trains per hour will run between Redhill and Tonbridge at busy times. An hourly service will run throughout the day.
Uckfield to London Bridge
The hourly service from Uckfield will run as half-hourly between 06:33 and 07:33 to support peak time and school travel on the route. The service will be hourly at busy times, but will reduce to every two-hours when trains are quieter in the following periods. To illustrate this, the departure times shown will run:
- Uckfield to London Bridge: 05:31, 06:33, 07:03, 07:33, 08:33, 09:33 (to East Croydon only), 10:33, 12:33, 14:33, 16:33, 17:33 then hourly until 22:33
- London Bridge to Uckfield: 05:20 (from East Croydon), 06:07, 07:07 08:07, 09:07, 11:07, 13:07, 15:07 then hourly 21:07, 23:07
Caterham and Tattenham Corner to London Bridge
Direct fast services to London Bridge will be reintroduced on these routes on an every 30 minute basis.
Epsom to London Bridge via Carshalton Beeches
Fast services between Epsom and London Bridge will run every half-hour, the exception being a reduced frequency in the morning. Trains from Epsom to London Bridge will depart at 05:45, 07:16, 08:15 then every 30 mins until 22:45.
London Bridge to East Croydon via New Cross Gate, Brockley, Honor Oak Park, Forest Hill, Sydenham, Penge West and Norwood Junction
Trains will run every 30 minutes.
Beckenham Junction to London Bridge
Services will run between Beckenham Junction and London Bridge every 90 minutes throughout the day. Additional services will run at school times to provide improved connections in the Dulwich area.
Customers at stations such as West Norwood and seeking to travel to or from London Bridge should use the “via Norwood Junction” option in www.nationalrail.co.uk journey planners to show additional journey options.
Clapham Junction and Watford Junction / Milton Keynes (from Monday 14th March)
Southern will run two services per day in each direction from Monday 14 March:
05:27 Balham to Milton Keynes Central
07:01 Milton Keynes Central to Clapham Junction
17:16 Selhurst to Milton Keynes Central
19:16 Milton Keynes Central to Selhurst
At other times, you will need to use London Overground and London Northwestern Railway services for stations on this route.
Brighton to Portsmouth / Southampton
Fewer services will run in the Chichester to Portsmouth and Chichester to Southampton sections of this route. Longer distance customers should change trains at Chichester or Barnham.
Brighton to Hastings
One train per hour will run throughout the day. Most trains will run with eight, rather than four carriages.
Brighton to Hove
Fewer shuttle trains will run between Brighton and Hove, customers should use longer distance services from Brighton to and from Littlehampton, Portsmouth and Southampton.
West Worthing to Brighton
Local services between West Worthing and Brighton will not run, customers should use longer distance services between Chichester and Brighton, or Littlehampton and London Victoria
Lewes to Brighton
Shuttle services between Lewes and Brighton will not run, customers should use services between Seaford and Brighton.
Gatwick Express is suspended until further notice.
Sevenoaks / Orpington to London Blackfriars
Additional services will run between Orpington and London Blackfriars to provide up to three services per hour at busy times between Bromley South and London Blackfriars.
Cambridge to Brighton
Additional station stops will be made at Ashwell & Morden to improve connections at busy times.
London Blackfriars / Luton to Sutton / Wimbledon
Four trains per hour will continue to run between Sutton and London Blackfriars via Tulse Hill. Two trains per hour will continue to Luton via St Pancras International. The exception is the following trains will not run from 28 February 2022:
- 11:34 Luton to Sutton
- 13:19 Sutton to Blackfriars
- 13:51 Blackfriars to Sutton
- 14:46 Sutton to Luton
This change is to support the introduction of additional Southeastern services at London Blackfriars.
King’s Cross to Cambridge – stopping service
The current service of two trains per hour running in the Royston to London King’s Cross section of this route with one train per hour continuing between Royston and Cambridge serving Meldreth, Shepreth and Foxton will continue.
Additional services will run between Royston and Cambridge to improve school time connections with Meldreth, Shepreth and Foxton.
King’s Cross to Cambridge – fast service
Additional station stops will be made at Royston and Letchworth to improve connections at busy times.
Many thanks for your leadership on this issue Mario. It's been a really tough period for many Surrey commuters these last few months with some London commutes doubling from 1 to 2 hours with poorly connected services and changes - making it a very long day indeed!
- Cllr Luke Bennett - Surrey County Councillor for Banstead, Woodmansterne and Chipstead - 16th February 2022