`Worst railway' to cut rush-hour services

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The Independent Online
South West Trains, dubbed the worst line in Britain, is planning to cut rush-hour services from its summer schedules, according to documents obtained by The Independent.

The company, which has already wiped 39 trains from its daily timetables after laying off 70 drivers, will also replace through trains in the rush hour with connecting services, forcing passengers to change at two stations in order to get to their destination. SWTruns the largest commuter service and was the first line to be privatised. According to its "Train Service Proposals", SWT plans "to rationalise the local service in South Hampshire in the `peak period'." Trains to be scrapped include the 7.33am Eastleigh- Portsmouth service and the busy afternoon ride from Portsmouth to Southampton. It also means late-night passengers between Portsmouth and Southampton will face a change of train at Eastleigh. Another late service from Eastleigh to Portsmouth will be dropped from the timetable.

Many stations will also be dropped from the company's summer timetable. The 7.15am Lymington Pier-Waterloo train will only go to Brockenhurst, costing the commuter towns of Ashurst, Totton and Redbridge a service into London.

The moves come into force in June and have been agreed by Opraf, the office of passenger franchising which let the service, and Railtrack, the company which co-ordinates schedules between rail firms.

"These services were not protected by the `passenger-service requirements' and hence we have seen them cut as we predicted," said a spokesman for the Railway Development Society. The passenger watchdog, the rail-users consultative committee and Hampshire county council objected to the changes. Insiders said there was little time to gauge public reaction because of the rush to get the proposals accepted.

The proposals, which were condemned yesterday by Opposition MPs and passenger groups, and come a week after rail enthusiasts claimed private firms in the South of England had cut trains and failed to meet agreed targets for late departures and excessive journey times. "What we are beginning to see is the extent of the cut- backs which companies are imposing on travellers in a mad rush to cut the grant from the government and push up their profits," said Jonathan Bray, a spokesman for Save Our Railways, an anti-rail privatisation lobby group. The Labour Party said that the "franchising director is on his last ride".

A spokesman for Glenda Jackson, Labour's junior transport spokesman, said: "Rail services are now disintegrating as rapidly as the Government. Ministers need to step in and control the monster they have created."

A spokeswoman for SWT said last night: "Some services have been cut in a bid to reduce over-crowding on trains in the London area."

n Furious commuters staged a sit-in on an Exeter-bound South West train last night which stopped short in Salisbury. When rail staff told them to catch another service one man jumped back on board and blocked the doors open with his feet so the train could not be moved to a siding.

Hazardous journey, page 24