'Turn up and go' Metro trains for London

The first stage of a plan to bring Tube-style train frequencies to south London was launched yesterday with the name South London Metro.

Frequencies on two sections of line in south London have been increased during off-peak periods with several stations - in particular those between Sydenham and London Bridge - having a 10- minute rather than a 15-minute service when the new timetable starts on 2 June.

Market research shows that people in south London want a "turn up and go" type tube service, and once waiting times are reduced to a maximum of 10 minutes, people no longer bother to consult a timetable.

The idea is that these greater frequencies will be introduced throughout Network SouthCentral, the train company which launched south London Metro and which operates trains within a large swath of suburban south London and longer-distance trains mainly to Surrey and Sussex.

James Adeshiyan, business manager of Network SouthCentral, said that extensions of the Metro concept to other parts of the network are planned for the next year. He said: "We're going to give this a trial for the next year or so and see how it goes. These things do not take off overnight, but there is a whole large section of the great British public who never take a train. We want them to try it."

To retain the extra frequencies on the Sydenham line and from Crystal Palace to Streatham Hill, the company hopes for a 25 per cent increase in usage on these off-peak services. While there are extra costs, notably extra payments to Railtrack for track access and extra drivers, no new rolling-stock is required since some of NSC's trains sit idle during the day, as they are only used at peak times.

But where was the transport minister ready to hail this scheme as a benefit of privatisation and a triumph for the Government's rail policy? The Secretary of State, Sir George Young, and Steven Norris, Under-Secretary of State, were conspicuous by their absence and the Independent inquired as to why, especially as Network South Central is due to be handed over to the new owners, Compagnie Generale des Eaux, next weekend.

"Ah," said the press officer, "This is nothing to do with privatisation. BR planned it ages ago, which is why we've got it in the timetable now." Indeed, it takes around a year for such radical changes to be made to the timetable to allow train paths to be plotted, and therefore the gestation of the Metro concept predates privatisation.

Although local rail-user groups broadly welcomed the improvements, Graham Larkbey, of the Railway Development Society (South Central), points out that train frequency has been cut from half-hourly to hourly between Beckenham Junction and Crystal Palace in order to accommodate the new service. "This sets a worrying precedent," he said. "It makes a mockery of government assurances that service levels would be protected."

However, Network SouthCentral said that Beckenham Junction already has a regular service via an alternative route into London.

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