Govia Thameslink Railway 2018 timetable consultation: an initial look

On 15 September 2016 Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) launched an extensive consultation setting out proposed changes to the timetable which will be operated by GTR in 2018 following completion of the Thameslink Programme. Details of the consultation, which runs until 8 December, along with information on the proposed changes, are available from the websites of all the GTR brands: SouthernThameslink and Great Northern; and Gatwick Express.

In this post, Charles Martin takes an initial look at some of the proposals outlined for the Southern Metro and Wimbledon loop

The 2018 timetable may be a step in the right direction. For suburban south London, the  benefits of the new timetable look as though they will include the welcome and long overdue addition of extra trains in the peak periods, and the regularisation of the timings of some services (possibly enabled through the consolidation of routes).

In many cases, though, routes will continue to offer just a thirty-minute interval service. This is most notable, perhaps, on the the Thameslink route through Sutton and Wimbledon. Although later evening and earlier Sunday morning trains are proposed for the Wimbledon loop, along with some welcome additional peak-hour services, the continuation of a low-frequency service here will do nothing to make orbital journeys in this part of London any easier. It looks as though the tranquility, afforded to users of West Sutton and Sutton Common stations, is set to continue for a while yet.

There is one station in the borough that will see a fair increase in trains, and that is Belmont. The off-peak offering is to be increased from one an hour to every thirty minutes. Not sure yet whether this will include Sundays though (currently no service).

At stations currently served by four trains an hour, there is no guarantee that these will run at evenly spaced 15-minute intervals in future. However, the Victoria route through Carshalton Beeches, Wallington, West Croydon and Norbury, that currently operates with 9 and 21-minute intervals, could be an welcome exception, as the outline timetable suggests that trains on this route will run “every 15 minutes”.

There is a proposal for the half-hourly, Monday to Saturday off-peak, semi-fast Victoria service, originating at either Dorking or Horsham, to additionally call at Carshalton. But, even when combined with the half-hourly Epsom to Victoria service calling at most intermediate stations, there is still likely to be significant gaps between trains. It had been hoped that a regular, fifteen-minute interval, service, calling at all intermediate stations (as has been in operation during weekday evenings and on Sundays during the day since December 2010) would be introduced. (Reasons for this preference have been outlined in our previous consultation responses – see the Publications page for details).

Hackbridge (an area of growth) will gain two additional services towards central London during the high morning peak, but there are to be no additional trains at off-peak times. Hackbridge actually looks set to lose services in the evening and on Sundays too, if proposals for two of the four existing Victoria services each hour to no longer call at the station go ahead. So, back to every 30 minutes.

Mitcham Junction (for connections with Tramlink) and Mitcham Eastfields (a station that has seen a significant increase in patronage since opening in 2008) are, like Hackbridge, to see a reduction in trains during the weekday evenings and on Sundays. Similarly, opportunities to connect with the Northern Line at Balham are to be diminished.

One proposal that the rail operator highlights is the introduction of an all day service (every 30 minutes) between Epsom and London Bridge through West Croydon, with a stopping pattern as currently exists during peak hours only. This will restore a direct services to and from London Bridge for the off-peak that was lost (without much concern) when the London Overground services to West Croydon were introduced (much heralded). It will also ensure there are two direct trains an hour between Cheam and West Croydon (with six an hour – up from five – through Cheam, linking Sutton with Epsom (and beyond)).

New services are welcome, but whether the London Bridge offering is the best option is debatable. Apparently, there have been “strong stakeholder requests and passenger demand” for this service (although SRUF have not been aware of this, and evidence for this assertion would be welcome). It is also worth noting that at certain times of the day it is currently possible to travel from London Bridge to Wallington in around 24 minutes (cross-platform change at Norwood Junction). Just imagine if such journey opportunities were available all day, and every fifteen minutes or so.

And this leads to the really big question that hangs over this 2018 timetable consultation. The focus is on a line by line basis, with very little regard for network connectivity. There is nothing here to suggest that consideration has been provided to facilitate robust interchange between these (in general low-frequency) services. Perhaps the four regular-interval Southern services will connect quickly and expediently with the four London Overground trains at West Croydon. There again, as has been the case during the evenings since December 2015, perhaps they will not. Who knows?

SRUF has called for more frequent services at regular intervals, better connectivity and removal of timetable anomalies for nearly fifteen years now. It will be interesting to see to what degree these have been realised when the Thameslink programme is complete in 2018. Travelling by rail at peak times can be quite challenging in south London (a situation that was exasperated during the summer of 2016 with a higher than usual level of train cancellations and delays), so the additional capacity (even though not as much as we would like) will help. The 2018 timetable may be a step in the right direction.

The 2018 timetable, however, is not enough. Journey patterns are changing (people commute to Sutton as well as away from Sutton) and orbital journeys matter too. And London is growing. As the Turning south London Orange report (Centre for London, January 2016) described, reforming suburban rail could support London’s next wave of growth. There is a lot at stake. The delivery a high-frequency suburban network, that works for everyone, is long overdue. It looks as though we are going to have to wait a while yet.

There will be an opportunity to discuss this consultation at the October meeting of the forum. Details on our Date of next meeting page.

What about Worcester Park? Services here are provided by South West Trains, and so Worcester Park is not subject to this consultation. It is worth remembering that a major recast of the timetable was carried out by South West Trains in 2005. This resulted in users of the station enjoying an evenly-spaced four trains an hour service calling at intermediate stations between Waterloo and Dorking (further enhanced by additional trains during the peak) ever since. Prior to that, there was a not dissimilar service pattern to that now proposed for Carshalton. Things could be improved further at Worcester Park, though, by extending the fifteen-minute interval service up to the last train.

v1: 29.09.2016. Some corrections 30.09.2016 

4 thoughts on “Govia Thameslink Railway 2018 timetable consultation: an initial look

    1. Charles Martin Post author

      Thanks Tasha. According to the “Station by Station comparison chart” (available here and here, the new timetable is to include a total of 18 departures from Wimbledon loop stations to arrive at London Blackfriars between 0700 and 0959. The chart suggests that there are currently 12 departures during this period from West Sutton to London Blackfriars (although my research suggests that there are currently 11 departures defined as AM peak, six towards Wimbledon and five via Sutton). If the intention is to increase the number of morning peak trains to 18, it is a step in the right direction. However, what is not clear is the direction around the Wimbledon loop the additional services will operate! If this equates to three additional services clockwise and anticlockwise, and given this is over nominally a three-hour period, the increase is not all that impressive. Will try to find out more at the SRUF meeting this evening (13 October), and then see how best to promote your petition.

      It is worth noting that although the peak periods are important, SRUF would like to see services operate every 15 minutes (at least) during the off-peak too. Wimbledon is an important interchange, Sutton is a growing employment base, and journey patterns are changing. One train every 30 minutes, a situation that has existed for decades (since at least the 1960s), does not cut the mustard in 2016! The expansion of the London Overground services over the last few years has shown what can be done. May I suggest, perhaps, that your petition could be reworded slightly to be even more ambitious? Thanks anyway for starting the process of debate!

      1. Tasha

        Thank you so much, Charles! I totally agree, increasing the frequency of services to every 15 minutes during the off-peak too would be great! Unfortunately, the website does not let me change the petition now, I can only cancel it and start a new one. Not sure it is worth it though – I have shared it with lots of people already and got some people to sign it …

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