12 March 2012

Thameslink Extension - Good or Bad?

From 2019 the Thameslink extension will greatly improve services from London Bridge to Kings Cross and beyond. How will this affect us? Today developments can be seen above Borough Market where a new viaduct is being constructed to relieve congestion on this section of tracks.

In 2008 the South London Route Utilisation Strategy recommended that Thameslink services should stop at Honor Oak Park, Forest Hill and other stations on our line, replacing 4 out of 6 of our existing peak services. This gave us hope of a direct trains to Kings Cross, possibly all the way to Bedford.

However, Network Rail and the Department for Transport no longer appear to favour Thameslink services stopping at Forest Hill. Although no final decision has been made, all reference to stations between New Cross Gate and Norwood Junction has been removed from information about the Thameslink upgrade programme and renewing franchises. Without public consultation a decision may have been made.

Commuters and/or passengers would still be able to benefit from increased interchange opportunities at London Bridge after 2019, which should improve journey times to Kings Cross and other parts of the City. However we are not sure if there will continue to be any direct services to East Croydon, or if all the East Croydon trains will be fast to London Bridge, possibly with a stop at Norwood Junction. We already have some trains via East Croydon and these are very useful for passengers heading to Gatwick Airport, an additional change at Norwood Junction as well as East Croydon would increase the inconvenience for many people on our line.

In the short term there is a threat that services into London Bridge may be reduced in frequency, with more 10 carriage trains to partially compensate. The reason for this is the rebuild of London Bridge Station. As a result there will be fewer terminating platforms, particularly during the redevelopment. Previously the suggestion in the Route Utilisation Strategy was that the Forest Hill services should be extended to 12 carriages and reduced to four trains per hour (even in the morning peak). Since then some of our Southern trains have been extended to 10 carriages but many still run with 8 or less during peak times. Evening services have already been cut back to four p/h, although there are six p/h in the morning.

Perhaps we shouldn't complain too much... We have more trains to more destinations. This year we started to get longer trains - up to 10 carriages, and it seems increasingly likely that East London Line trains will be increased from four to five carriages. Our services are now slightly less crowded. Lifts are planned for Honor Oak Park.

But it does seem that ignoring Forest Hill from the Thameslink programme is a missed opportunity. Instead of increasing direct destinations for an area of South London, the Thameslink trains will only directly benefit the Home Counties. We should probably be thankful that the old Thameslink carriages (with little legroom) may be distributed to our line to increase the length of our trains.

* We would like to see Thameslink trains serving our community directly;
* We value the direct connection to East Croydon;
* We strongly oppose any permanent loss of service and are concerned at any temporary loss of service, due to the inconvenience that this will cause;
* If Thameslink trains don't call at Forest Hill then there is even more reason for reinstating the late evening and weekend Charing Cross service;
* We would like to see more trains in peak hours extended to 10 carriages with further consideration to 12 carriage trains as demand dictates.

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