Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Let’s go back to the slow lane

Posted in Commuter, Customer service, London by Chairman Pip on 22 September 2010

It’s coming up to a year since Southeastern began its “Highspeed” service (and I put the term in quotation marks because, according to the definition, it isn’t actually high speed at all) from London St Pancras. While it has garnered some praise, this has not been universal, with many complaints that the services to the railway termini south of the Thames have been adversley affected; some of Southeastern’s Mainline services now take longer than they did before the December 2009 timetable change, while others no longer run at all, which is especially the case with services into London Cannon Street. This is important, because Cannon Street is the terminus that serves The City. So, people that are fed up with the situation are now calling for the reinstatement of parts of the old timetable. But is this possible? Is there space in the current timetable (into which some degree of thought has presumably gone) to bring in the faster running times and jig around services to serve the stations that people want served? Further, is there the rolling stock in Southeastern’s fleet to do so? An example – since the introduction of the Class 395 units on the “Highspeed” services, the Class 465/9 units that served some of those destinations have been moved to strengthen the operator’s Metro routes. I doubt that these could be moved back without massive protest from passengers using the Metro services they have enhanced. Similarly, the Electrostar units have also gone to strengthen services. So who could possibly bring back the “lost” services that are being cried out for? Even though the timetable was from the DfT rather than Southeastern, it would be difficult for the train operator to implement massive change on the scale that has been called for. The only option then would be for an open access operator to come in with a plan to use any available slots in the timetable. Except that the routes into London from Kent are some of the most intensively used in the country, with very little available space for extra services. Furthermore, there is no precedent for an extensive open access commuter operator to start up in Great Britain – none of the existing open access operators do this, as they are either intercity (Eurostar, Hull Trains, Grand Central, Wrexham & Shropshire), or else only operate on small sections of the national network (London Underground, Tyne & Wear Metro, Heathrow Express). Finally, there is the nature of the infrastructure – third-rail electrification, with the only route having OHLE being High Speed 1. Using diesel traction extensively would not likely be cost effective, owing to the need to maintain and fuel the vehicles, as well as ensuring the supply of diesel. So any prospective operator would need to obtain a decent third-rail fleet that can operate the kind of inter-urban commuter services. So, does anyone have any ideas?

Class 375 and 395 units pass each other at Minster - the Highspeed services have been criticised for taking regular services away. But how could any reinstatement actually work?

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