The wrong kind of timetable: that, it appears, is the cause of the lamentable punctuality on one of Britain’s busiest commuter rail lines.
Southern, which runs trains from London to the Sussex coast, has redrawn its rush-hour schedule in the hope that chronic delays are eased.
The train operator has revealed a new timetable, which comes into effect on Sunday. It aims to improve timekeeping, particularly on the main line between Brighton and London Victoria - the route of the least-punctual service in Britain, the northbound 7.29am. The train failed to arrived in the capital at its appointed time of 8.35am every working day last year.
The offending train runs as a stopping service as far as Gatwick Airport, whereupon it undergoes a change of personality and becomes the non-stop Gatwick Express to Victoria. From Monday morning, it will race through the leafy halt of Wivelsfield in mid-Sussex rather than pausing to pick up passengers, and aims to reach London at 8.38am.
The workers of Wivelsfield may be feeling hard done-by, because the next northbound train, just three minutes later, will also be erased from the departure screen.
The 6.56am from Brighton to Gatwick Airport disappears, resurrected at the airport as the 7.34am Gatwick Express.
The train operator says of the changes: “These will help us sort out many of the problems with punctuality that you have encountered in recent months.”
Southern blames its punctuality problems on the success of the railways in attracting more passengers: “We run our services on an increasingly congested network. Over the years as more and more people travel into London, train operators have added more and longer trains to the timetable, and previous infrastructure upgrades have proved to be insufficient to cope with the growth in railway traffic.”
At peak times, trains on the main line between Gatwick Airport and East Croydon are scheduled to run every three minutes, close to the minimum possible gap between services given the current signalling system. Lines from east and west join the main line at Haywards Heath and Three Bridges respectively, with further complexity north of East Croydon as trains diverge to Victoria and London Bridge - where a massive refurbishment project is presenting its own problems.
Any disruption - such as the signalling difficulties at Gatwick that delayed thousands of commuters this week - can ripple quickly through the system.
One user tweeted: “Delays through #HaywardsHeath because it's a day that ends in ‘y’.”
Rail passengers also face the prospect of a strike by Network Rail staff in a dispute over pay and job security. Members of the RMT union have voted strongly in favour of a strike, and other unions are also balloting their members.
Commuters eager to get their hands on the new printed schedules face disappointment. Southern warns travellers that: “These changes have only just been validated by Network Rail which will mean an unavoidable delay to availability of pocket timetables at staffed stations.”
One glimpse of good news: passengers on the 6.06am from Bognor Regis to London should feel a little more comfortable. Their train is being extended from eight carriages to 12.Reuse content