PROJECT DERISKED: 24TPH NOT TILL DECEMBER 2019
A PHASED introduction is planned for the Thameslink Programme improvements to ensure operational robustness when the extra services are introduced. ‘A “Big Bang” is a bad idea’ Chris Gibb, independent chair of the Thameslink Industry Readiness Board, told Modern Railways. The former Virgin boss added: ‘I still bear the scars of “Operation Princess” and I am determined to avoid the same mistakes again’, referring to the upsets when Virgin reshaped the CrossCountry timetable in 2002. Network Rail is on target to complete the remodelling of London Bridge in January 2018 and now the focus is on operating the new timetable. The idea behind the Industry Readiness Board’s plan is that operating staff should be made familiar with the new arrangements in stages, to allow new services to be bedded in gradually before additional changes are introduced.
Around 70% of the capacity benefits will still be delivered in May 2018. In addition to the Thameslink changes, the full introduction of the new Southern timetable next May promises greater reliability, in particular on the metro routes.
In summary, the plan is:
■January 2018: take advantage of the new infrastructure at London Bridge by diverting trains that do not stop between Blackfriars and East Croydon, so that drivers learn the route through the remodelled station. The trains will not be advertised as stopping for passengers, as the operations will vary at short notice from day to day, but as the London Bridge route is eight minutes faster than that via Elephant & Castle, trains will need to pause somewhere and the best place may be in the platforms at London Bridge.
This move will allow driver familiarisation with the new route earlier than planned and give early decongestion benefits for Southern at Herne Hill and Tulse Hill.
■April 2018: start running a small number of passenger trains through the Canal Tunnels (linking the Great Northern route with the Thameslink core) in the off peak, building up driver and station familiarisation. Again, this is earlier than planned. Passengers on a diverted train who were going to King’s Cross will instead be able to get off at next door St Pancras International and will have the bonus of being able to go through the Thameslink core and beyond.
■Before 20 May 2018 (timetable change day): there will be a transition week in which some of the new services will start operations before the timetable change. This is in order to position trains correctly for the new timetable: Class 700s will take over many workings and a lack of stabling space means the transition from old to new stock will take several days.
■May 2018 timetable: there will be 18 Thameslink trains per hour in the peak through the core (12 via London Bridge and six via Elephant & Castle), delivering a huge capacity increase. The Southern timetable will also be redesigned in line with the extensive timetable consultation that GTR began in September 2016.
The timetable principles were supported by the Gibb review (p84,
August 2017 issue) and will result in reliability improvements south of the river. In total there will be added capacity into London in each peak for 35,000-40,000 passengers.
■May 2018: there will be changes to the East Midlands Trains timetable.
Some EMT services that currently run in and out of termini on short turnrounds will need to lay over in the new timetable so that extra Thameslink services can be fitted in. In order to accommodate this, EMT will be taking on operation of Grand Central’s three HSTs early next year, when that operator replaces them with Adelantes released by the arrival of Class 800s on Great Western (p14 last month).
The peak timetable in the London area on the Midland main line is being finalised and is likely to see some changes to stopping patterns on both Thameslink and EMT.
■December 2018: one extra Cambridge to Brighton and one extra Bedford to Littlehampton service will be added to the mix in the peaks, taking those two routes up to the half-hourly frequency planned for them. This will mean 20tph in the peak through the Thameslink core (14 via London Bridge and six via Elephant & Castle).
■May 2019: two services already operating on either side of London, Welwyn Garden City – King’s Cross and Sevenoaks – Blackfriars, will be joined up and sent through the core to make 22tph in the peak (14 via London Bridge and eight via Elephant & Castle).
■December 2019: the project completes with the addition of a half-hourly Maidstone East to Cambridge service, joining up services that were terminating at Blackfriars and King’s Cross.
24tph peak through the core (16 via London Bridge, eight via Elephant & Castle).
■Traffic Management (TM), European Train Control System (ETCS) and Automatic Train Operation (ATO) for passenger trains will come in during 2018 as planned, but Mr Gibb says these are not essential until May 2019.
Chris Gibb told Modern Railways he had been working with his colleague Chris Green, another ex-Virgin Chief Executive, on the Thameslink Industry Readiness Board: ‘We’ve spent 11 months knocking into shape a project that looked pretty shaky – we’ve stuck to our guns and got what we wanted’. He adds that there are ‘still quite a lot of risks, but these are of a smaller nature’. One of the ongoing worries is the shortage of stabling facilities for the new services, particularly in Kent.
But when he spoke to us, Mr Gibb was in chipper mood. While the Thameslink changes have caught the spotlight, Mr Gibb says changes on Southern in May 2018 are of an equally momentous nature. Next year will see the biggest change to the Southern timetable since privatisation, with operations simplified on the Metro network by minimising frequency changes and avoiding conflicts at flat junctions.
The idea is that longer, fixed formation trains will work on the same route all day with the same frequency at peak and off peak. A new Epsom to London Bridge service will be introduced, filling a gap in the network.
Mr Gibb is pleased that most of the recommendations in his report on Southern are to be implemented – giving him the confidence to say there is now no need for the lunchtime ‘firebreak’ gaps in the service he recommended to correct any irregularities hanging over from the morning peak.
He concluded by praising industry partners who have co-operated on the Thameslink Industry Readiness Board, saying the Thameslink Programme was in a better place thanks to the constructive attitude displayed by all the operators concerned, along with Network Rail.