“Severe disruption, extremely busy trains and queues outside stations” – that is what South West Trains is telling commuters to expect over the next three weeks.
London Waterloo, the train operator’s hub, is Europe’s busiest transport terminal. But it is at full capacity, and the only way to increase the number of seats for travellers is to lengthen the trains. Unfortunately, many of the platforms are too short for 10-coach trains.
Therefore, platforms 1-10 at Waterloo will be closed from 5-28 August, up to and including the August Bank Holiday weekend, so they can be extended.
More than 200 million passengers each year use the trains and Tube at London Waterloo. On a typical working day, more than 300,000 travellers pass through the central London hub that connects the capital with the south-west suburbs, Surrey, Hampshire and beyond.
But for the next three weeks, most stations on the South West Trains network will see the number of rush-hour trains more than halved.
On the main lines from Bournemouth, Southampton and Winchester, morning rush-hour services will be cut by 54 per cent. For most suburban lines, serving Wimbledon, Kingston and Dorking, three-quarters of trains will be axed. The Windsor and Reading lines will lose a third of services.
Clapham Junction, which handles more trains than any other station in Britain, will operate a queuing system, as will Wimbledon. These are normally busy interchanges, but passengers will be discouraged from changing trains.
Tina Callaghan, who travels in from Wimbledon to her job in Canary Wharf, said: “It’s going to be a nightmare. They said ‘Avoid the station between 7.30 and 9am.’
“There’s a chance I’ll work from home, or change my working hours, or take an alternative route.”
Some stations will be closed altogether during the peaks, including Earlsfield, serving a swathe of south-west London. Passengers are being told to use the Underground instead.
Other train operators will be affected. Southern says that some rush-hour trains from London Victoria to Gatwick and Brighton will not call at Clapham Junction, “to prevent overcrowding at the station”.
Transport for London is warning Tube users in south-west London to expect more crowding than normal as commuters switch from rail to the Underground.
Adam Bainbridge from Winchester said many more seats are needed on commuter rail services to Waterloo. On his one-hour journey, he said: “Monday to Thursday it’s crowded, Friday sometimes you can get a seat.”
But he was hoping that all the publicity would mean fellow commuters would be staying away.
“I’m going to give it a go next week. I’m kind of hoping that the Armageddon theory has put people off and it’ll be empty.”
The work is being carried out now because August is the quietest time of the year. Network Rail has many other projects this month, including upgrade work at London Euston in preparation for the HS2 high-speed line. Euston will close completely on 26 and 27 August.
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