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Anonymous9 Jul 2015
I have just returned from a couple of days in Porto. Excellent meetings, good Portuguese colleagues, efficient and comfortable flights from TAP, but….
Setting out on Sunday morning, I discovered in the timetables a train from Kentish Town to LGW leaving at 08.36 – ideal timing. When I arrive at the station, the train is cancelled, “no driver”.
On return, waiting on platform 4 at LGW for the Thameslink train, as the train pulls in, the points just beyond the end of the platform switch it to platform 5. The announcement of a platform alteration is made at the same moment, cueing a rush of passengers (many with bulky luggage) to the stairs and the lifts to get over the tracks to the new platform. At least the train is held (for seven minutes) to allow everyone to get on board, but then delays mount and mount as the train crawls towards London.
Why do we allow a railway company to cancel a train with zero notice? What kind of railway station knows so little of what it is doing as to cause a stampede from one platform to another. What do visitors from abroad think of this kind of chaos?
(No need to answer that last question – we know.)9 Jul 2015
Sadly this is the regular pattern on TL. We had high hopes for the new operators but they are as useless as First Group. No coincidence that Southern and TL are run by the same group and have the lowest rates of satisfaction of any train operators in the country.
In fact I was onto my MP about it again yesterday. Sadly though MPs believe having more debates and meetings is taking action.
I can’t say I have any confidence in the govt when it comes to rail of transport generally. Last parliament we had the West Coast Balls Up and the shambolic overcrowding at London Bridge as part of the TL upgrade. This parliament we have already seen the rail budget slashed and the airports saga drag on. We just need HS2 to be reined in and we can all shout bingo.9 Jul 2015
As a commuter who has used Thameslink (First Capital Connect) most weeks for the last 10 years, I’d say it isn’t too bad generally.
There have been bad months, and even bad years (extending the platforms wasn’t much fun),
and the strange situation with Kings Cross before St Pancras opened where you had to get off the train at Kings Cross and walk over several busy junctions to rejoin a train going north,
and of course London Bridge at the moment and for years to come,
and at the weekends because of engineering it’s difficult if not impossible to rely on them,
and they are full if you try and get on going south,
and full if you get on them going north, but only during the rush hour,
and the variable stock meaning you don’t know if there’s any luggage racks on them, and the toilets are bad,
but at least consistently,
and there’s no powerpoints on board even the new carriages, and leg room varies so everyone tries for the seats for the elderly,
but generally, as I say, compared to other train companies, not too bad.
Generally.9 Jul 2015
Perhaps the train system needs a similar computer to the one being discussed on
It always amazes me how well the trains work in Europe. Junior Sinclair went inter railing in Europe this week with a load of friends. They started with Easy Jet to Amsterdam and then onto the European train system.
I have a copy of his itinerary and there are 8 train journeys, covering 5 countries and the itinerary details all:
In the situation above, we are always led to believe that the 7 minute delay will have a tremendous knock on effect…. wonder how they are coping today 🙁9 Jul 2015
Well a few things to help explain the predicament that we find ourselves with TL. As many of you know this was originally called Thameslink 2000 so only 18 years behind schedule (So a Heathrow runway 3 I guess will be around 2048). The cost in the same time have gone up 5 fold from a couple of billion to £10bn plus. The success of re-opening the TL tunnels has lead to the problems we find today (and without that CrossRail wouldn’t be happening).
The reason for the driver shortages is that the final timetable for the work around London Bridge was only finalized relatively late. As journey times are longer for the services from the South Coast to Bedford and some services now terminating at London Bridge meant that there was to be a shortage of drivers as more drivers are required to run the timetable. It takes over a year to train a driver and by the time the timetable was put in place it meant there was not enough time to train the appropriate number od drivers without relying on Overtime from the current pool of drivers. That combined with natural attrition means that the service isn’t 100% deliverable without goodwill of current train drivers. By December 2015 there should be enough train drivers to deliver the service.
319 Trains are not great and the 387’s that are new and being used for a while will move to Paddington once the lines here are electrified out to Reading and beyond – but good news is that very shortly the new fleet will arrive in fixed 8 or 12 car formations (no more short 4 cars due to break downs) which having looked at the plans are far superior with much more luggage space. Only downside is loss of tables in standard class. The new trains will also feature onboard information regarding overcrowding advising where the train is overcrowded – and where loading is relatively low. So a big step up from what we have now. Also the new technology will means that trains that are 20 minutes out from the Thameslink core will have new signaling technology to tell drivers to approach at a certain speed so that trains flow into the core – in much the same way ATC brings aircraft into an airport – so a rail “stacking” system. how this will work with non TL services though using same tracks outside the core will be interesting. But essentially rather than turn up and find delays – there should be more control and ability to foresee issues and reduce delays and make things more efficient.
A problem though going into 2018 is that new services such as Brighton to Cambridge might come undone as the pressure on the ECML for paths is huge and not actually enough space to run the 8 TL paths per hour, the 7 High Speed paths and the other paths required for services into Kings Cross / Moorgate for local services. So something will have to give and problem only just being addressed – expect another fudge on this soon. Stevenage was originally intended as a change point for people coming from the South to connect to the ECML without the walk from St Pancras lower level to Kings Cross. But this apparently may not be possible as stopping HS trains at Stevenage may cause more pathing confliction. Again the planners may have a lot to answer for!
For the network. Well it is Victorian and the most intensely used network on the world. The tracks literally are bursting (to operate safely) and no other country has the intensity of service that the UK has on such an old infrastructure. So a 7 minute delay in UK can have a huge knock on.9 Jul 2015
Funny how it’s always jam tomorrow, Tim.
When First took over the TL route in 2006 there was a shortage of drivers. They did nothing about it and the shit hit the fan in 2009/2010 where they cancelled dozens of services as drivers refused to work overtime. Usual platitudes from the government (remember the wretched Chris Mole as transport minister) and everyone blamed each other.
Fast forward almost 10 years and guess what. There still aren’t enough drivers and we are dependent of overtime to deliver the service. As you rightly say the TL upgrade is only 15 years late (so far) so it’s not as if there hasn’t been time for a bit of planning.
Add in the utter shambles of massive overcrowding at London Bridge and you can see why confidence is at a low ebb.
I had a very encouraging reply from my MP who told me they had a debate on this only yesterday at which she spoke!! Three cheers and expenses all round.
No doubt some good ideas and soundbites which will be passed to Mr Fudge and Mr Muddle at the DfT to look into.9 Jul 2015
Many thanks, Simon, Tim and Martyn for many interesting comments. I can just picture Martyn as the engine driver…..
What about my second gripe in the original post? We can’t blame TL for Gatwick station shifting plarforms at zero notce. When I buy tickets in advance for a train on the continent, the routine in many countries is for the arrival and departure platforms to be listed on the ticket.9 Jul 2015
I normally have marmite on my toast – only ever now and then jam.
But yes you are right Simon, we have been here before. Whilst we blame the operators we should actually be pointing fingers mostly at the DfT for it is they who pretty much decide on timetables / service requirements. So whilst we’ll be getting nice shiny new trains soon the same eegits will be running the show.
I personally think it is time to undo rail privatization – the costs and downside and the disjointed approach we have now. Yep – been some benefits but most of these could have been done without need for privitisation. Things like the Chiltern line have been a huge success being a private operation and are the standout operator / network. But sadly not many cases which are genuine success stories.9 Jul 2015
You talk about new services in 2018 for Brighton – Cambridge having problems with paths on the ECML. My understanding is that the existing Kings Lynn/Cambridge to KGX would “go underground” and on to Brighton so there would not necessarily be 8 paths required. I think you are lucky if the idea of changing to ECML at Stevenage has been dropped. It is a small station with narrow platforms, limited waiting rooms and waiting for a northbound express on a windy, cold winter’s morning is not to be recommended. Having said that I think on the Cambridge line we are luckier than you south of London with our train services. It always amazes me that while we get to cross the M25 in about 10 mins from KGX it can easily take 45-60 mins out of Waterloo and London Bridge to reach the southern part of the M25.9 Jul 2015
The 8 paths are for TL services – some of which will switch from current services into KGX. But the latest addition of Modern Railways has a big piece around the ECML and one of the issues is the paths at the lower end of the ECML once the expected TL services are due to run.9 Jul 2015
I’ve just been using Southern and while my use was extremely limited, I found the service very good. Clean punctual trains. Comfortable seats and friendly staff. There was even a stand with books and an honesty box in aid of a local charity in Lingfield.
Downside. No electric points to charge phone.
Upside. I had a very attractive young lady sit next to me on the way back. Totally drunk she immediately put her head on my shoulder and went to sleep. Impossible to push off and Mrs. LP said to just leave her. She then started to caress my thigh! Of course I told her stop immediately. ………………..After 10 minutes! 😉9 Jul 2015
Without going political, but privatisation has brought increased frequencies and newer rolling stock as well as efficiencies of operation. It is highly unlikely that the 20 minute service between London and Manchester would have been introduced under BR. The higher frequency of services in other parts, wouldn’t have happened under BR.
As for comparison with Europe, they don’t operate the level of services and frequencies that we have in the UK. They are also mostly overstaffed and the punctuality rating in some countries is appalling.
I would say that the way privatisation was done is an issue, with too many bits. My view is that BR should have been broken into four or five area companies and sold but with a performance regime.9 Jul 2015
Further to Simon’s point on overtime working generally, is it not the case that with many TOCs the working regulations state that Sunday working is regarded as voluntary overtime and drivers can opt out of working on a Sunday. Therefore, you are more likely to find cancellations on a Sunday than most other days.
I know this is the case with Scotrail who last week notified the public of reduced Sunday services due to driver unavailability.9 Jul 2015