Why should customers arrange their holidays to suit Network Rail?

There was a small eruption on 29-30 January when Southeastern announced that on August Bank Holiday and for four working days afterwards there will be no Southeastern trains at Charing Cross, London Bridge and Waterloo East – and said:

“If you’re planning a holiday, please consider these dates”

On Twitter people reacted strongly to the suggestion that they might plan their holidays to suit the plans of the Train Company with comments such as

We’ve been investigating what’s happening, why it is happening in the days after the Bank Holiday rather than earlier in August, and how customers were consulted.

What’s happening?

We understand that there’s a lot to do, and this requires an eight-day “possession”:

  • track work on the Charing Cross lines between New Cross and Bermondsey, to disconnect the tracks from the temporary position they are currently in and move them into their final position.
  • track work at London Bridge to remove the temporary crossover at the London end of platforms 6 and 7 and put the track in its final alignment.
  • commissioning the signalling to bring platform 6 at London Bridge into operation (so that platforms 8 & 9 are for trains to Charing Cross and platforms 6 & 7 are for trains from Charing Cross).
  • associated major alterations to traction power and sub-station switching.
  • significant alterations to the signalling systems between New Cross and London Bridge to bring lines back into use.

We’re told that comparable volume of work was delivered over Christmas 2015 where Network Rail carried out the works over 10 days with no services through London Bridge.

In our view it’s probably better to get this over with in one go, rather than close London Bridge every weekend, and delaying until Christmas 2017 would push back the completion of the London Bridge work and the resumption of “normal” services.

Why in the week immediately following the Bank Holiday?

However the timing of the work is hard to explain. For such a big change the preparatory work is usually in place weeks in advance so the possession does not need to be delayed, and that seems to be the case here. So it should have been possible to close the tracks for a week earlier in August.

Indeed unconnected work on the South-Western side of Waterloo is being carried out between 5 and 28 August – which is a good choice because it is the peak of the normal holiday season. By contrast Bank Holiday Monday usually marks the start of the commuter “rentree” as people return from holiday and start returning to work.

Network Rail have failed to give a good explanation of why the work is not being done before the Bank Holiday – say from 19 August up to 27 August (leaving the Bank Holiday Monday itself as a day of live running to bed in the new signals and power before commuter services on Tuesday 29 August). There seems to be no technical reason why not. Network Rail say that an earlier date would require London Bridge to be closed for five working days rather than four, but have not been able to give any figures to show that this would be worse for customers: to us it looks as though fewer people would be affected in the first week, when many people are still on holiday, than in the second week, as people return to work.

Were customers consulted?

In a word, no.

Network Rail have said:

“All engineering work that will impact on train services is subject to an industry process where Network Rail consults with train operators and freight operators. If train operators believe that the work will prevent them from running a reasonable service for their passengers then they can, and do, object to planned work. When this happens, Network Rail and the operators work together to find a solution that will allow the operator to run a reasonable service while Network Rail carry out significant and important engineering work such as that proposed for August.”

That says a lot about the rail industry’s cavalier attitude to the passengers that ultimately pay their wages:

  • the focus is on scheduling services around when Network Rail want to do the work, rather than scheduling Network Rail’s work when it will inconvenience passengers the least.
  • there’s no consultation with customers at all – either with London Travelwatch and Transport Focus, or with a wider range of groups and individual customers (to be fair, Southeastern did consult widely on the timetables during the London Bridge rebuilding).
  • the attitude of the industry is neatly summed up in the original announcement from the “Thameslink Project” – we passengers are expected to organise our holidays to suit Network Rail. Indeed in response to our representations, Network Rail have not even been prepared to acknowledge that they might organise their work around our holidays.

What do you think? Please let us know here.


Why should customers arrange their holidays to suit Network Rail? — 2 Comments

  1. It is very difficult to make any plans in the absence of information as to what this means beyond “no trains at Charing Cross, London Bridge and Cannon Street.”

    For example, where will the main line services be terminating – presumably they won’t all just be cancelled all the way from Hastings/Ashford. Sevenoaks? Orpington? Further up? How many can / will be diverted to Victoria?

    I would have thought it would have been better to make sure they know what services will be running before announcing this.

    Compensation is the obvious other question – by the sounds of things they’re cancelling my trains for a week so I hope they’re going to refund 2% of my season ticket (although I suspect I will be disappointed).

    I agree that its probably better to do it all in one hit and 4 days disruption, on the face if it, is better than 5, especially as schools are still off that week, hopefully delaying the rentree. But surely they should have made sure they had answers to all the obvious questions now so people could make informed decisions?

  2. @James

    There’s no further information at the moment – the timetables and replacement service details will only appear about 8-12 weeks before the August Bank Holiday. It’s likely that some services will go to Victoria but there will not as much spare capacity as there is at weekends since other lines will be running a weekday service.

    Southeastern do not pay any compensation for planned engineering work – even though they did not notify these plans to those buying annual season tickets in the December peak renewal season. That’s although Southeastern themselves will receive compensation from Network Rail (they received £31m of such compensation in 2015-16, the latest year for which figures are available).

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