On 12th January passengers may have been forgiven for expecting the worst, as the rebuilding of the Southeastern side of London Bridge station got underway and a new timetable began. Despite recent chaos at Kings Cross and Paddington, things went reasonably well at London Bridge with the engineering works over the weekend finishing almost on time. The new Southeastern timetable also appears to being operating smoothly as far as the trains themselves are concerned. For passengers, things aren’t necessarily quite so straightforward. Until August 2016 no Charing Cross trains are stopping at London Bridge, so there is a drastic reduction in services to that station. The feedback we’re received indicates that the effect is being felt more severely at smaller stations such as Hildenborough, which had relatively few services to begin with.
Overall, we think that Southeastern and Network Rail have done reasonably well in managing the change. The new timetable is holding up, unlike the timetable on Southern, and Charing Cross trains are running surprisingly smoothly through the building site of London Bridge. There has also been a reasonable effort to make passengers aware of the situation. However, a number of significant problems remain:
- In the peak Cannon Street services are often overcrowded because they are the only trains to serve London Bridge. As far as we’re aware most passengers from Tonbridge are getting a seat in the morning, but we’d be interested to know of any trains which are so busy that you’re having to stand. The most serious problem is for passengers returning from London Bridge in the evenings. Access to London Bridge station involves a circulous climb up stairways, the platforms are severely overcrowded and the trains themselves are already full (since the majority of passengers, probably wisely, are choosing to board at Cannon Street).
- The late evening service is a particular bugbear. There are very few services from Charing Cross after 21:00, with Tonbridge departures at 10, 40 and 45 minutes past the hour only. The former departures at 00 and 30 minutes past the hour now leave from Cannon Street at 03 and 33 minutes past the hour, calling at London Bridge at 07 and 37 minutes past the hour. Splitting up the late night service in this way means that the remaining services from Charing Cross are very busy. Of course, late at night the last thing anybody wants is to have to wait ages for a train and then travel in crowded conditions! We believe that late night demand is overwhelmingly centred on Charing Cross and that all services from 21:00 onward should depart from there, as they used to. We note that late night services from Cannon Street are reported to be sparsely used.
- Some concessions have been made to allow passengers with ‘London Terminals’ tickets to use London tube and bus services, but we don’t think they go far enough. In particular, we’ve called for tickets to be accepted on intermediate tube stops. Currently anybody in the Covent Garden or Temple area who needs to get to Cannon Street has to walk back to Embankment station to get the tube, rather than simply boarding at Temple. This adds unnecessary time to an already arduous transfer. We are also frustrated that the Waterloo and City line has not been included in the scheme. There are long gaps between services to Cannon Street (for example, 08:20 to 09:36 from Hildenborough) when the ability to jump on a Charing Cross train and use the ‘drain’ to get to Bank would be invaluable.
Please contact us to let us know your own experiences. We’ve also started voicing our views on Twitter, where you can find us @TonLinCommuters. Rest assured we’ll continue to press Southeastern and its industry partners to provide the best possible service during this period of inevitable distruption.