See, Elvis Costello had a hit singing about not wanting to go to Chelsea – now commuters in Greenwich, Blackheath and Deptford might be humming to same tune, but about being sent to Cannon Street. (Tenuous? Look, you try writing about trains and making it interesting…)
It started with The Greenwich Phantom on Monday; who managed to find a little-spotted guide on Southeastern’s website to how many trains you’ll be getting each hour from December. Deptford Dame posted about it today.
Why December? That’s when the high-speed trains between St Pancras and distant Kent – the ones they won’t bloody stop going on about – are introduced, allegedly justifying some of the well-above inflation fare hikes of the past few years.
In deepest south-east London, we’re not likely to even see these trains, never mind get the chance to ride on one. But their introduction will free up some space on our lines, so the timetable is going to get its first revamp in heaven knows how many years – I’ve been commuting for 16 years and in the rush hour, it’s barely changed since the days of slam-door trains and cardboard tickets.
And heaven knows, it needs it – at some stations (like Charlton) the Saturday service offered over Christmas was, at times, superior to that offered on a normal weekday. The whole thing looks like it was drawn up when men wore bowler hats, women did little else but dictation and everyone was safely back home for six.
And so far, it’s an improvement – between 7am and 10am, 26 trains will leave Charlton station for central London instead of 14* now. Westcombe Park, Maze Hill and Deptford get 18, Greenwich gets 23. Nice.
But then, the catch… no trains to Charing Cross, except in the rush hour. They’ll head to Cannon Street instead.
Actually, this has been the situation at Westcombe Park, Maze Hill and Deptford for about nine years. I remember thinking it was barking at the time – after all, who wants to go to the City in the day when all the fun’s in the West End? But then, once the change had been made, it made a bit more sense – no more dawdling outside London Bridge, waiting for a platform; on the whole the Cannon Street trains are far more reliable than those which have to use the overcrowded lines to Charing Cross.
So now users of the Greenwich line will enjoy six trains each hour (instead of four now) during the day – but they’ll have to change at London Bridge, or catch the Tube at Cannon Street or Bank to get to the West End. (Charlton keeps a link to Charing Cross, via the line to Blackheath.) Not such a bad thing, I reckon.
But… enjoy those rush-hour trains to Charing Cross while they last. Work’s just started on the Thameslink Programme, a long-delayed scheme to boost the route between London Bridge, Blackfriars and Farringdon. It’ll turn London Bridge into a building site for a few years and cause what the Evening Standard calls CHAOS! for a bit.
This will mean more trains from north-south London, but to accommodate this, the link between the Greenwich line and Charing Cross may be cut for good. Trains from Greenwich would have to clatter across too many tracks to manage it, Network Rail says. The proposal’s also in Network Rail’s long-term plan (7MB PDF, see page 112) for south London’s trains. Transport watchdog London Travelwatch suggested NR looked again at the scheme last year, and tried to build some kind of bridge. No more has been heard of it since.
Remember the oodles of local media coverage it got at the time? The big consultation campaign? Politicians alerting you to this? Funny that, isn’t it? So if you think things are bad now, they could be about to get worse.
Of course, if there was one single fare system between train and tube, if travelcards were cheaper and not constantly hiked up, if London Bridge was turned into an easier station to change trains at, the change might not be so bad.
But when you try to implement things in secret, and don’t involve the public, then no wonder they get angry.
(* I think they’ve missed a train out here, but never mind.)