Rail passengers face triple whammy: no more Charing Cross trains on the Greenwich line, no chance to change at London Bridge, and then trains won’t stop at London Bridge at all

Candidates Paul Morrissey, Cherry Parker and Damien Welfare at London Bridge station

Labour candidates Paul Morrissey, Cherry Parker and Damien Welfare at London Bridge station

If you were given a leaflet about the “Thameslink Programme” at a London railway station recently, make sure you read it very carefully. The Thameslink Programme is not just about changes to Thameslink services between Gatwick Airport and Bedford: it also involves the  complete rebuilding of platforms 1-6 of  London Bridge station between 2015 and 2018.

Anyone travelling through London Bridge faces a difficult three years of missed connections, longer journeys and overcrowding. Given that London Bridge is the UK’s fourth-busiest railway station, and Crossrail is no use as an alternative as it won’t start until 2018, it’s still far from clear how people will commute to and from work over this three-year period. And worryingly, while SouthEastern may not be as bad as their predecessor Connex, they were recently judged to be one of the least popular train companies in the country, before the worst disruption at London Bridge even starts.

The service changes are complex and have not been well-explained to rail passengers, many of whom are confused by the project’s branding as the “Thameslink Programme”, rather than something more sensible such as “London Bridge station rebuilding”. In summary, from early 2015 until August 2016, all Charing Cross-bound trains will pass through London Bridge without stopping. From August 2016 until early 2018, all Cannon Street-bound trains will pass through London Bridge without stopping.

London Bridget_0

Network Rail and SouthEastern railway are, at last, beginning to do more to inform passengers of the chaos in store, thanks to pressure from a new Greenwich Line Users’ Group (GLUG) and the Labour-run council. A new credit-card sized information leaflet was  handed out at London Bridge station in January (much of the content of this can be found online here and here) and more publicity is promised in April.

But the disruption now looks even worse than previously feared (see here and here for previous posts). All rail passengers in south-east London will be hit but Deptford, Greenwich, Maze Hill and Westcombe Park  stations will be particularly badly affected, as all their trains go to and from Cannon Street off-peak (other lines have a mixture of Charing Cross and Cannon Street trains).

This means a triple whammy: from January 2015 onwards all trains on the Greenwich line (including during the rush hours and on Sundays)  will run to and from Cannon Street only. Secondly, from 2015 to 2016 there won’t even be any trains from London Bridge to Charing Cross to change onto. Thirdly, from 2016 to early 2018, all Greenwich line trains will go through London Bridge without stopping on their way to and from Cannon Street: anyone wanting to reach London Bridge, Waterloo or Charing Cross will have to travel by bus or tube from Cannon Street.

Passengers using other stations such as Blackheath and Kidbrooke will also be affected, with the Blackheath Society warning last week that from January 2015, the proposed new timetable will mean that trains to Blackheath from Cannon Street will stop running at 19.54 on weekdays and 19.24 on Saturdays. This means that anyone wanting to get to Blackheath after 8 o’clock from the City or London Bridge will have to get to Waterloo East or Charing cross, which the society charitably describes as  “do-able but adding 15 – 20 mins to journey times”.

Network Rail's "Thameslink Programme" logo: passengers will have to wait three years for any rainbow

Network Rail’s “Thameslink Programme” logo: passengers will have to wait three years for any rainbow

At a meeting between Network Rail and the council at Woolwich Town Hall last October, councillors were shown some exciting new images of the proposed new station, with historic arches under the station restored and opened up for the first time, and warm words about minimising disruption. The London Bridge “Project sponsor” at Network Rail, Chris Drabble, told us that flexible working helped ease the pressure on public transport during the Olympics, with Londoners changing their working hours to ease pressure on train and tube services. But while asking your boss for permission to work flexibly may have been easy during the three weeks of the Olympic Games, it is much more difficult over the three-year period of chaos that London Bridge will face from 2015 to 2018.

It was a similar story at a meeting of the Charlton Rail Users Group on February 4th: Rupert Atterbury Thomas from SouthEastern said that discussions were still ongoing about a “Travel Demand Management Programme” to keep south-east London moving between 2015 and 2018. With only ten months to go until the chaos starts, time is running short.

There is still no guarantee that Cannon Street tube station will stay open later in the evening until overground trains stop running (it took TFL several months to open Cannon Street tube station on Saturdays after SouthEastern trains started going there on Saturdays a few years ago). And on top of that there are no plans to restart trains through the under-used tunnel between Charlton to Blackheath in the morning peak (which would give Greenwich line passengers a few more options).

The questions which I and other Labour councillors posed almost a year ago have still not been fully answered:

  • How are people going to reach London Bridge from other termini, when both the Jubilee and Northern tube lines are running at capacity? (Network Rail said there may be some scope to run extra tube services on the Jubilee Line, but not much.)

  • Will Oyster Pay-As-You-Go passengers be refunded for having to take London Underground services to reach Charing cross, because they can no longer change at London Bridge? (SouthEastern say they want to ensure no-one is out of pocket, but can’t say how)

  • What can Network Rail do to review their plans to reduce disruption, and why have they done so little to warn passengers of all this chaos ahead? (They are starting to give out more information, but most passengers still seem unaware of the chaos ahead)

  • Can a shuttle service be provided between Cannon Street and Waterloo East and Charing Cross, on the spur that bypasses London Bridge, during the reconstruction process? (SouthEastern have said this is unlikely, as there won’t be enough spare platforms at Cannon Street)

Blackheath Westcombe ward’s Labour representatives and candidates will continue to keep a close watch. Let us know if you have any particular questions you want us to raise with SouthEastern or Network Rail.

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6 Responses to Rail passengers face triple whammy: no more Charing Cross trains on the Greenwich line, no chance to change at London Bridge, and then trains won’t stop at London Bridge at all

  1. Pingback: Labour’s petition for a better deal for rail passengers during London Bridge station rebuild | Blackheath Westcombe Labour

  2. Kate Gould says:

    it would be great to speak to you about the works – southeastern have just published its timetable for next year

  3. Piers says:

    Thanks for this. Although I did see some flyers being handed out on one occasion a long time ago in Greenwich station, we had completely forgotten that this was upon us!
    My wife is heavily pregnant and although she can still benefit from the now limited direct Charing Cross services, traveling outside of those times now becomes difficult, on her commute to central London. And in the future will make her commute along with child care arrangements very awkward at best.
    Getting to Gatwick airport will also be far more difficult for those of us may travel frequently.
    I am all for the development at London Bridge but more support to affected users should be a basic part of this. My monthly travel pass is worth a lot less to me over the next few years.
    This is a massive fail from a sub-standard “privatised” rail network that abuses passengers by putting up fairs and reducing services, while also managing to appear completely unconcerned through a lack of consultation and dissemination of useful information about realistic travel alternatives.
    There is no real competition on rail services, privatization does not work in this scenario, if we don’t have an alternative provider to choose.

  4. Russell Miles says:

    Does this mean that Southeastern will start runing 12-coach tains to relieve the pressure? Since they’ve extended all the platforms on the Greenwich line to accommodate longer trains, we’ve actually seen peak-time train lengths DROP from 10 coaches to 8.
    If I read this correctly, does it also mean that Plumstead will get the same number of peak-time trains, but the Charing Cross trains (every other train) will be diverted?

  5. kerry says:

    Trains from Blackheath to London bridge are in effect halved for 3 years, on top of this the alternative routes result in an increased journey time of around 20 minutes – this is longer than the original journey time of 12 -14 minutes!

    How is this acceptable? I feel like Blackheath has been pretty much ignored and taken off the radar. Somewhere so close to central London now has equivalent transport links to destinations past zone 6!

    Where is our compensation for this? Not only do we suffer in our own journeys but also, I rent my spare room, my potential tenants are now limited depending on if they need London bridge or not (London bridge being a major station for city workers). Not impressed.

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